Dave White, Thinking before Painting
Andy Warhol needed to define his work from the pop art crowd. Roy Lichtenstein had his comic strips, Jasper Johns his maps and flags - Warhol too wanted a niche for his subject matter. So his friends suggested he simply painted what he loved, giving rise to what are the now iconic series of his life’s work. The Campbell Soup Can series came from the fact Warhol ate the soup almost every day, the celebrity pieces evolved from his obsession with fame, and images of suicide and car crashes emerged from a morbid fascination with death.
For contemporary British artist Dave White, inspiration for subject matter comes from the same idea of depicting personal imagery and loves. In what is his first retrospective, it is easy to see that the places Dave goes back to for inspiration are those of childhood memories, instinctive obsessions and personal fascinations.
Big, bold and brave canvases from across Dave’s twenty-year career are collected together for the first time under Loughran Gallery’s latest solo show, Sold Out. For a lot of the pieces, this will also be the last time they appear together as this is also a show of artist proofs, taken because, quite simply, the rest of the series are sold out.
In the exhibition at Lock Studios, the first collection of works is taken from the Natural Selection series. From delicate and dynamic Humming Birds to tropical chameleons, this is the series where Dave explores his fascination with natural defence, camouflage and rare wildlife. These works are immediate and aesthetically stunning, reminding you of the animals’ beauty and the stark nature of their plight for survival. Yet here endangered species are shown in celebration, thriving and fighting, rather than struggling on the edge of extinction.
At the rear of the venue are four sneaker prints, drawn from Dave’s love of the shoe. This is the elevation of an everyday object to the status of a piece of art. It is done not so much as a sweeping statement on popular culture, but more as a labour of love from the artist personally.
Walking into the next room, you come face to face with the Americana series. The room is dominated by a swooping eagle, a prowling cougar and strong warrior, flanked by beautiful totem humming birds in Cherokee orange and blue. Opposite are further memories of iconic imagery Dave loved as a boy; a powerfully mesmerising revolver and a young blonde looking down the barrel of her gun for a Sure Shot.
True to the style of pop art, these flashes of culture across all of Dave’s series have been extracted from their context to be reproduced as singular entities on the canvas. Whether it is a Nike sneaker, Americana or an endangered animal, through their dedicated reproduction in paint onto canvas, these example images become iconic, become pieces of art.
But this is where the comparison to pop art stops. With Dave White, there is a more profound dialogue going on, a motivation besides Warhol immortalisation. In an interview earlier this year with Loughran Gallery, Dave revealed that the Americana series was a way to explore the social phenomenon of disconnection from other cultures. “We live in what I describe as an ‘iPhone culture’,” he said. “We’re aware that other communities and ways of life exist, but we’ve become disconnected from them.”
The white background and isolation of a subject acts provokes this sense of disconnection, whilst simultaneously forces a closer look and appreciation from the viewer of what they see. For the Americana series, Dave took an extensive research trip to Monument Valley, where he got to know the environment and the struggle the community faced in the wake of disconnection from modern society.
Walking through Sold Out it is clear that the subjects on the wall have a very personal connection with the artist. Each piece deserves its own attention, requiring time to repose and think about what you see. A form of ‘reflection art’ – art that uses what is around and what makes an impact, before then looking at why it has the effect it does.