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"Painter Carl White"
Painter Carl White.
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"At Five O'clock in the Afternoon - For Europa"
Carl White, "At Five O'clock in the Afternoon - For Europa," 2007, oil on canvas, 48" x 96".
CARL WHITE, Ganymede
ArtFirm Gallery, Calgary
September 13 to October 13, 2007
By Dina O'Meara
As a child, Carl White learned about colour and composition from the masters, seeing original pieces in museums with his photographer father. White was particularly struck by Rembrandt’s “Rape of Ganymede”, not one of the Renaissance master’s better-known works but one which resonated with the young White for years.
White revisits the classic painting with a striking new approach in his upcoming exhibition Ganymede, opening this fall at Calgary’s ArtFirm Gallery. White retains a love of form in his oil-based explorations of mythical rapture, but departs visually from previous figurative works by layering the romantic classical figures with semi-abstract explosions of colour and script.
The 38-year-old Calgary artist says his new direction is due in part to working on an instinctual level rather than pre-determining how a painting will look. It’s a reversal from previous works, which involved a traditional series of preliminary sketches.
“It’s the exact opposite to how I’ve worked or created anything up to this point,” White says from his home studio in southwest Calgary. “I feel so out of control with this show, but it’s the most exciting work I’ve ever made. The lack of control is exactly what I’ve wanted in the creative process.”
Trained in graphic art at the Alberta College of Art and Design, White is a firm believer in having a solid background in anatomy, colour theory and composition before departing from classic technique. It took him years to truly understand Michelangelo’s thought that “the greatest artist understands the concept is in the marble, and the hand that obeys the intellect will set it free,” White says. He likens the experience to becoming fluent in a language before playing with vocabulary, and in an artistic sense, White is fluent in several.
In this new exhibition, White explores the stories of Zeus’s four lovers, Calisto, Europa, Io and Ganymede, which he sees representing different aspects of the mythical god’s desires. The idea of rapture has interested White for years, the forceful taking and surrender to the sublime, and he focuses on the moment of rapture for each of the lovers in every piece.
In “At Five O’Clock in the Afternoon” (a nod to the poem by Federico Garcia Lorca about a bull fighter), White paints the body of Europa, who was ravished by Zeus in the form of a white bull, floating against a topographical map of the moon Europa. An explosion of red flares out at the opposite side of the painting, the swirl of an abstract matador’s cape.
The work began with Europa’s figure. “The paint just started to happen on top of that, obscuring the history,” White says. “Which is what is occurring with me on an intellectual basis with this subject matter.”
Late in 2006, the wiry native of Liverpool, England, started examining the Rembrandt painting and the connection he felt with it over the years. White found that Galileo named one of Jupiter’s moons Ganymede after discovering it in 1610, and started looking at the links between the myths and the cosmos, and humans’ place in all of it.
The major shifts happening to White’s artistic process reflect a maturity and knowledge which enable him to let go of the “crutch” of faithful representation, he says. “It’s a powerful vulnerability. It’s like exposing yourself completely, and within that, finding the power in it, not the vulnerability of it. You’re open to everything in it. It’s a scary place to be, especially when you have a show opening,” he adds, laughing.
Represented by: ArtFirm, Calgary; Gallerie D’Avignon, Montreal