Sherrick & Paul • Through June 13
by Erica Ciccarone | Photograph by Jeffrey Graetsch
Artists and athletes. From the outside, they have nothing in common. They live in two different worlds: one of the mind, the other of the flesh. Wendy White doesn’t see it that way. Her work is informed by the unmitigated experiences of sports, the visual cacophony of Chinatown, and the insistence of street graffiti to assert that its artist exists.
White’s paintings have a muscular energy that flattens the viewer. That’s how I felt, anyway, when I saw two of her paintings in the inaugural Sherrick & Paul exhibition last year. Asymmetrical, unbelievably smooth, and often huge in scale, her abstract acrylics offer panoramic views of her experience in the world. This month, White presents Double Vanity, a series of new work at Sherrick & Paul. Although this series is not as overtly sports centered as other of the artist’s work, it captures the same kind of in-the-moment, untempered bursts of action that White likes.
“There’s hardly anything in life that isn’t planned,” she says. “But games happen and people win and people lose, and it’s one of the only things that’s like that anymore.” It’s similar, she says, to the art-making process. “You can’t prepare for it, and then it’s over and the work goes somewhere else. Everybody assumes that artists can’t play sports. There’s been this division for so long, and I think the headspace is really similar. The potential for failure, the greatness of failure . . . ”
Listening to White talk is convincing. The discipline of the athlete and the artist surely requires the same kind of solitude, and, like an athlete going into a game, White knows that anything can happen in the art-making process. “You’re creating a problem for yourself to solve every day that really doesn’t matter to anyone else. It’s similar to trying to up your game or shave a second off of your time.” This led White to think more about the way emotions are enacted in sports. In a recent exhibition at David Castillo Gallery in Miami, White fused inkjet prints of athletes with acrylic painting to show how gender informs emotional moments on the field. Her critique is playful but revealing. She relegated the male athletes to a space in the back of the gallery that she called the man cave.
“That got me thinking about the splitting of the domestic space based on gender-based desires,” White says. She noticed how on shows like House Hunters, where couples scout their perfect home, the men and women often have very gendered needs. The woman always wants a bigger closet; the man needs a place of his own to play music or pool.
There’s hardly anything in life that isn’t planned . . . But games happen and people win and people lose.
“In such an increasingly non-gendered world where the line should be blurred, television and mainstream media tell us that we should still be defined by it.”
Double Vanity will delve into this theme using the architecture of the gallery itself. Sherrick & Paul is divided in two by a freestanding wall, giving it a mirrored effect. White is carpeting the floors in white and using the mirrored spaces to reflect the two domains of the home: male and female. The paintings in the show have names like Sure, Scumbag and Crybaby and use a decorative palette of pastels. Many of the pieces include text, which is inspired by White’s neighborhood in Chinatown, Manhattan. She stencils letters into her work that reflect the neighborhood’s signage, awnings, and canopies that are teeming with English, Cantonese, and graffitied text.
Though the text in White’s paintings does not usually have a discernable meaning, it reflects the human need to leave a mark on the world. Rather than trying to force meaning into a work, White relies on the vagueness of abstraction. “Meaning,” she wrote in a catalog piece, “doesn’t breathe outside of a moment.”
As an athlete who practices every day year round knows, the moment will pass if you don’t seize it. White finds it in her studio practice when she starts trusting a different part of the brain and the work takes over. “That’s the moment. It’s a glance. It’s a flicker. That’s the moment that keeps you making more.”
Wendy White: Double Vanity will be on exhibit at Sherrick & Paul through June 13. Visit www.sherrickandpaul.com for more information.