"I think being female makes my work inherently political" - In Conversation with Wendy White

Posted by Stacie Ant, March 08, 2017
Wendy White at Drake One Fifty exhibition opening, FOMO. Photo courtesy of snapd Queen.

Wendy White at Drake One Fifty exhibition opening, FOMO. Photo courtesy of snapd Queen.

Back in September, New York-based artist Wendy White transformed the wall of our Drake One Fifty dining room into one of her trademark abstract paintings for our annual exhibition. She used a gradient spectrum, installed behind black pixilated sculptures of clouds and text. The digital appearing installation is contrasted by rough smears of black ink, adding a hint of the artist’s hand to the overall piece. This unusual juxtaposition of elements is representative of ways in which Wendy's work truly extends beyond the frame and explores space and boundaries in a unique and vibrant way.

To celebrate International Women's Day, we reached out to Wendy to asked her about her experience as a woman working in the arts and the ways in which it has influenced her work.

Over the course of your career, can you talk about the changes you experienced in the art world in regards to women artists and the reception of their work?
It’s gotten so much better! There are more opportunities for women than ever before. The change is palpable and I’m really optimistic.

What does it mean, in your opinion, to make feminist work at a time when awareness is building for gender fluidity?
You can only make work about your own experience in the world. I’m definitely a feminist, but when I’m working I’m just making what piques my intellectual curiosity and best tells my own story. That said, I’m definitely conscious of and interested in how things are changing. I actually made a show about it in 2015 in Nashville, about how gender normative traits are proliferated by reality TV shows like House Hunters.

Could you tell us about your series of portraits? There are some recognizable female political personnel mixed in with other celebrities of the 20th and 21st centuries. Why did you decide to combine these figures together? What do Dolly Parton and Michelle Obama have in common to be the source of your inspiration?
I have a very long list of women I want to make portraits of! Traditionally, women depicted in paintings are naked, objectified, idealized, victimized, or under some sort of duress. I wanted to fill in the biographical gaps with this series. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Dolly Parton, who is a strong feminist, endorsed Hillary Clinton but had to backpedal when she got flack from her fan base. There’s a personal and public persona to each of these women that fascinates me. Each portrait comprises two current or vintage photographs (the public persona) and one abstract canvas that represents the messiness of real life—the more illegible aspects.

You curate exhibitions as well; do you see that as an extension of your work as an artist? Tell us about your most recent show Man Alive.
I guess you could call curating a visual extension of my work, yes.Thinking of the interconnectivity of art keeps the lines of thinking open. That said, it does not come easily for me. I get kind of manic worrying about being inclusive and making sure everyone is happy. Man Alive is the biggest show I’ve ever done — 18 artists, all women — and was meant to coincide with the inauguration of our first female president. Obviously things didn’t work out that way, but the energy of the show didn’t change and that was encouraging. Art prevails.

Do you think of your work as political? If so, how do you think art can influence politics (and vice versa)?
I think being female makes my work inherently political, just as being an artist in general is a political act. I believe art parallels scientific and technological invention as well as politics, and vice-versa. Not everyone reacts to the world in a demonstrative way, but I’m more and more interested in those who do. There should be stakes in the work. To me there’s nothing more boring than a timeless image.

In several instances, you incorporated sports and sports logos into your work, which are often associated with masculinity. Can you talk about how your work was received in that regards?
It happened organically. I was initially into sports as they relate to speed and mark-making and graphics. But as I began to research athletes, I found a severe lack of photographs of women. That led to researching funding and sponsorship, in which there is a huge disparity between men and women’s professional sports. For example, I can find 20 angles of a mediocre male soccer player but just two or three of the greatest female players in the world—because photographers weren’t there. Because no one wanted to pay for them. There are less recognizable logos because the big companies don’t sponsor women. Digging deeper, I found female athletes who were more successful than many men in their sport but had had to quit due to lack of sponsorship. I couldn’t just ignore those facts, they had to become part of the work. It was the truth. I think the more I’ve tried to tell that story, the more personal the work has become because I’m heavily invested in shedding light on it.

How do you see the art world evolving over the next few years and what advice would you give to young artists?
I just hope we survive the next few years. Seriously. My advice is not to hold back. There’s never any point in holding back, but now it’s an imperative.

Wendy's work can be seen at Drake One Fifty until Sept 2017.

Posted in: Art

Tags: Art  Drake One Fifty