The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

EXCLUSIVE ASSASSINATION: Wendy White, Artist Represented by Leo Koenig, Inc.

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Photograph of Wendy White and her son at the studio. Courtesy of Wendy White.
Wendy White: Tore, 2009, acrylic on canvas, framed in acrylic on canvas on wood, 43 1/2 by 55 1/2 inches. Courtesy of Leo Koenig, Inc. and Wendy White.

Wendy White is a forthright and direct poet who speaks to the public in her own voice that has been influential. (To disclose: I have known her work extensively for the past year and her paintings have been a strong influence on my spray painting series. Also her work has influenced that of my friend Kadar Brock whose use of spray paint, gesture, and pattern are a cultural response to that of White’s.) The tension between the urban and suburban, movement and stillness, craft and spontaneity, and even the geography of “north” and “south” all manifest within the driving forces of squiggles, curves, lines, blocks, tape marks, and blobs of brightly rendered colors on one or multiple canvases. White eschews unnecessary artspeak, thus regaining our sense of humanity within the everyday.

As viewers look upon these epic-sized works with a few smaller ones interspersed, they are reminded of the paintings of Cy Twombly or Robert Rauschenberg in terms of the methods on a superficial level. However, a closer reading reveals that this urban sensibility reflects a concern with celebrating the everyday and the victory of life. For me, White’s paintings and installations point the direction to some unspecific event in the future that is full of bursting joy and gracious sport. The best thing is that anyone, not just art scholars, can relate to any of her work, which makes them timeless and universal.

If you have any questions about White’s artwork, feel free to contact her gallery Leo Koenig, Inc. at (212) 334-9255 or at

And for the moment we all have been waiting for. On to the show and here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s latest details of this “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?

Wendy White: I’ve been looking at Sam Gilliam’s ‘80s stuff recently and I love almost anything Isa Genzken or Jim Lambie does. Garth Weiser’s last show at Casey Kaplan and the Alice Neel show at Zwirner were pretty great. I wandered into Eileen Quinlan’s small show of photographs at the ICA in Boston last month and now I’m a big fan.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York where you are based out of or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Wendy White: I like Forlini’s Italian restaurant on Baxter Street in Chinatown, which is my neighborhood. Right around the corner is Winnie’s Bar if you like karaoke. Their song list sucks but there’s ambience. Apparently one of the bartenders smashed a beer bottle over a patron’s head a couple of weeks ago, but the worst offense I’ve witnessed is “Livin’ on a Prayer” three times in one hour.

qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America?

Wendy White: It sucks that galleries went under and artists lost representation and money that was owed to them. But what’s even more annoying to me is how everyone’s suddenly expecting artists to get all pseudo-introspective and make ephemeral work as commentary—you know, down-market chic or whatever. I mean, if Unmonumental happened during the boom, then maybe high production is the most radical you can be right now. Personally, I’ve just kept doing my thing and it hasn’t really affected my mindset one way or another.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work that you pursue? With your personal interests, are your painting, sculptures, and installation work reflective of those hobbies you engage in?

Wendy White: I like sports and fashion and I will confess to spending an embarrassing amount of time playing computer games.

qi peng: As a graduate of both the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, what were those school years like? How was life in the studio like back then? Did you have any influential professors or students during that time and what was their impact on you and your work?

Wendy White: I was a fibers major in undergrad. I mainly focused on sculpture but was also trained in textile design. My first job was for a company that made doormats—so depressing. Luckily I got hooked up with a good gallery in Atlanta, and that saved me. I showed consistently in the south for 8 years before I went to grad school at Rutgers. Thomas Nozkowski had just started teaching there and was the first person to really challenge me. He was also the first person to talk about painting in a way that didn’t make me bored or irritated. He talked about feelings instead of technique. It was like, finally.

qi peng: Within your lovely works, there is a grand focus on the act of painting, both in single panels as well as multiple panels. Use of multiple panels in contemporary art has been rather notable for the disclosure of a narrative unfolding across a particular tableau, whether it be Chinese folding screens or Brice Marden‘s monochrome panels during the late 1960’s and 1970’s before his style switch into the Chinese calligraphic mode. What is the story that you hope to relate within your abstract works, if there is any narrative? How do you decide to use one or many panels during the preparation of a certain work? How does the recording of gestures which are objective marks on the canvas a form of emotional interaction between the artist and viewer?

Wendy White: Working on just one canvas became claustrophobic and I wanted to experiment more with site-specificity. I was already making marks that suggested a continuation, but I’d been relying on buttressing or halting the compositions in some way, and that was asphyxiating in terms of content—I wanted full disclosure. What I’m going for is synthesis of sprawl and measure rather than a linear progression, but since there is much more text in my recent paintings, the narrative unfolds more traditionally now. I decide on the number of panels as I go, so the process itself is organic. The text is not pre-planned and is often stream of consciousness. The narrative unfolds for me in real time and then is hopefully trapped in the layers and played back.

qi peng: Within your paintings and sculptures which often act as a foreground to your paintings, there is an amalgam of various types of marks ranging from masking tape shadows to hazy brushstroke rubbings or wiping to linear curves to spray paint gestures which form the vocabulary of your individual signature on the support. How did you develop this artistic language during your studio years? How do you decide on certain titles such as “Faintly w/Rays” or “No-Glo” to match the mood or tenor of these pieces?

Wendy White: I wasn’t trained as a painter so I’ve never followed painting rules. I look at everything from confident art marks like Rauschenberg’s and Warhol’s to a bad attempt to spackle a hole in the wall. I try not to be afraid to do flatfooted things like tape things off in an obvious way, but I do work hard not to rely on symbols. Ultimately I’m not as interested in honing in on a language of marks as I am in tweaking my own idea of viability, you know, my inner judge. Lately I’ve been titling the paintings based on words that emerge from the text. Other times I just stare at it until something comes to mind.

qi peng: In many of your installation pieces, you incorporate objects from the sports world such as softballs and soccer balls. How do you meld the sports imagery which is figurative with the complex abstractions? What is the underlying theme that you are exploring in the concept of the idea of sports, and perhaps its competitive nature, within the act of painting? With the physical fitness aspect being an important part of a painter’s ability to execute large-scale work, is painting a form of sport and if so, how?

Wendy White: I’m interested in athletic achievement—not so much physical virtuosity, but rather the mental space that opens up when you succeed or fail at a sport or a game. It’s so difficult to share that experience or to communicate why it even matters. Similarly, when you make a painting, it exists for just that moment as this hyper-real, palpable achievement. You bask in it for a split second, but at its core it’s very lonely. On the other hand, there’s the collective energy you feel when you’re a spectator at sports events and concerts. You’re with strangers experiencing something bombastic and fleeting, but somehow it’s more real when you can look around and see other people enjoying it, too. I also like thinking about definitions for things like “task,” and “play,” and “labor” and what those things actually look like.

qi peng: Assume that you could create your own personal museum of artwork. Which artists or pieces would you include in the collection and why? Do you like looking at art museums or galleries anywhere? What types of pieces does your visual tastes gravitates towards?

Wendy White: I like originality in whatever form it takes.

qi peng: Your work has been featured twice in the publication “New American Paintings” during the past. What is your opinion on juried competitions such as New American Paintings and curated artists registries such as The Drawing Center‘s Viewing Program or White Columns in the development of a young artist’s career? Do you feel that being judged by “officials” or “art referees” help to create a strong reputation for the artist’s work? What elements do you think are necessary to make a particular artwork strong and communicative?

Wendy White: All that stuff matters and doesn’t matter depending on timing. Everyone cobbles together a different array of achievements and resume points, and no one has much control over whose radar they’re on. I don’t think there’s any single recipe for success for either a work of art or a career.

qi peng: Lately there has been a strong use of spray paint, particularly Krylon, within the work of Mark Dutcher and Kadar Brock (as well as myself). How did you get interested in using this particular medium within your artwork? What effects do you hope to achieve that traditional use of brushes cannot do? Why do you think that spray paint has become popular within contemporary art apart from its use in street art or graffiti? Do you feel that spray paint adds an urban feel and if so, how?

Wendy White: I used aerosol spray paint from 2004 to 2007, then I switched to acrylic textile paint and an airbrush. I love that a sprayed mark is physically direct but simultaneously so nuanced. The space it creates can be very photographic. That’s perhaps why it’s popular again now—it’s retro yet futuristic, inherently urban, reactionary and rebellious, yet also humble and DIY. Two artists using spray paint in an innovative way right now are Katharina Grosse and Keltie Ferris.

qi peng: How does the contemporary art world differ between that of Atlanta and New York? What are the major challenges in balancing family life and studio time? Does your work incorporate ideas that you experience within events from your personal life? If so, how?

Wendy White: Nothing compares to New York for me. I lived in Georgia for 11 years, basically the entire ‘90s. My work back then was diagrammatic and fussy. I remember being so bored with my paintings that I’d just stare at one on the wall of my studio until I fell asleep on the floor. That happened almost every day for months. I was really over-thinking everything and the paintings were full of symbols and stand-ins and muckety-muck. It wasn’t until I moved back to New York that I finally broke free from all that. Now I have a one-year old so life is as different as it could possibly be. I made all the work for my last show while I was huge and pregnant, and it was some of the most ambitious work I’ve made.

qi peng: Within your combinations of painting and sculpture for some pieces such as “foto therapy,” an object such as a soccer ball is suspended in midair in front of the flat surface of the background. Is there a similarity between the philosophical basis for this approach and that of Jasper Johns, who explores the differences between reality and our perception of that reality? What other themes does your work explore in terms of how we interact with our everyday lives?

Wendy White: The balls are counterpoints to the chaos, but more importantly, they act as vacuums for movement—kind of like a bug zapper. I’m not trying to reduce painting to object/symbol like Johns was, but I am interested in freezing time into layers of process and how they unfold the viewer based on the speed with which they were applied.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you enjoy about meals either prepared in a restaurant or home setting?

Wendy White: I like seafood best. I’d like to go on a crab cake world tour. Sitting outside with a crab cake sandwich and coleslaw and a beer is my idea of perfection.

qi peng: What is the methodology behind your paintings from start to finish, from preparatory studies to the completed painting? What is an average day like within your studio?

Wendy White: I don’t draw to work through ideas because there’s always this weird editing and primping that happens for me. I design the configuration of canvases in my head and then I figure out the measurements. I build the canvases, hang them, move them around, and decide if I need to add more and then build those to spec. I visualize the surface and marks based on a rough idea of the palette and the quality of edges I want—diffused, defined, taped, etc. I guess I’d say that I always know the vibe I’m going for, but the process itself is intuitive and very spontaneous.

qi peng: Your work has been exhibited many times in the Solomon Projects as well as your current gallery, Leo Koenig, Inc. What has your experience with galleries and museums been like over the years? Do you have any advice for up and coming BFA and MFA graduates who are graduating from art school and are starting to hunt for galleries to show their artwork?

Wendy White: I’ve been screwed by galleries in the past but I love who I work with now. My advice to recent graduates is to get to know artists with similar interests and create a strong support system. When you visit your friends’ studios, really be constructive and supportive—not like in school, where the dialog is 99% bullsh-t, but using as much plain language as you can. Try to drop any posturing and defensiveness, talk about sports and family or celebrity gossip or whatever else you’re into, and just be real about it.

qi peng: How do you think that the new media, ranging from video art to Internet-based projects, will impact people’s appreciation of painting and photography and sculpture, more traditional and established media, which are interacting with each other in terms of visual motifs and archetypes? Do you feel that as people interact with new media, they will be able to critique the cliches of mainstream media and have a profound understanding of what it means to be human?

Wendy White: I don’t see anything displacing the experience of a real object. I guess a lot of people think we’ll start craving traditional media, but I think that’s overly romantic. There’s such a brief moment of newness for anything that it’s a reach to say new media is really that much of a shock. It’s not about the length of time you look at something, or even what form it takes. It’s about how much it resonates.

qi peng: What are some of your future projects or exhibitions that you will be pursuing soon? Will these new artworks be an extension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or a different direction instead?

Wendy White: I have a solo show in September at Galeria Moriarty in Madrid, and that’s what I’ve been working on for the last several months. I’m making some large, multiple-canvas paintings and a series of “paintings within paintings” where the painting extends onto a canvas-covered frame. Those are new for me so I’m curious to see what people think.

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your paintings, sculptures, installation work, and forthcoming exhibitions here?

Wendy White: Hi!.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

July 22, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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