Don’t miss this show. Come down and see it this Saturday from 10am to 5pm. 617 11th Ave. S.W., Lower Level. 403 206 9942. www.jarvishallfineart.com
Truth and Lies
Calgary-based painter Carl White finds it amusing that Herodotus, a fifth century BC Greek historian, is known as both the father of history and, ironically, of lies. It is well known that he could not resist telling a good story, even — and, one suspects, especially — if it was not true.
White’s new body of work features fragments of different points in history, but like Herodotus, he’s no stickler for accuracy. “I am not so interested in whether the stories are true,” he says, “I’m interested in whether they resonate with us in some way.”
His disregard for facts seems contradictory considering his fascination with history, stemming from an intense curiosity as a child and a quest for truth. But the tactic of using lies to reveal a deeper human truth should not surprise us — after all, isn’t that what myths, legends, fables and folklore are for?
Istoria is an art historian’s treasure trove: Rich in iconography and mythological narratives, it has a way of teasing history buffs, providing them with visual cues and hints in the titles of what they are looking at, without giving it away. This level of ambiguity relieves his work of the pretentiousness that might normally be associated with this type of art.
Featuring what appears to be Greek or Roman portrait busts and majestic equestrian horses with ghostly remnants of the riders that once rode them, White’s paintings are essentially artifacts that speak to us through the layers of paint — ones that have become so intertwined it is almost impossible to determine where one begins and another one ends.
Like walking through Roman ruins, one can imagine the artifacts in that heyday. But White has no interest in displaying them in a flattering light.
“Perfection is boring,” he says. “I came to the realization that there’s a difference between making pretty pictures and making art.”
Plato and Aristotle believed that for a piece of art to hold significance or persuasion for an audience, it must be grounded in “verisimilitude,” meaning how much something resembles truth, reality or likeness to nature. White’s art is certainly grounded in this, but he sees little merit in realism for realism’s sake:
“What’s the point of mimicking reality, when I can just go and see the real thing and it is so much better than a rendition of it?” Instead, he believes in creating images that transcend; in other words, images where the whole equals more than the sum of its parts.
Full of dualities and paradoxes — fantasy versus reality, evil versus good, historic versus modern, pristine versus tarnished, defeat versus triumph, aggressive versus fragile, White’s pieces serve as a reminder of what we are all capable of being. In his paintings’ frailty and imperfections, we see our own humanity, and in their beauty and grandeur, we see our — perhaps as of yet — undiscovered potential.
But despite the rich allegorical and historical references, White’s work is unmistakably contemporary in its execution. The subject matter may evoke painters of another era, but his expressive brushstrokes, spontaneous and at times violent splashes of exuberant colours, glossy finishes and drips of paint left to their own devices, along with his signature scriptural markings, are White’s — and White’s alone.
When asked about his process, the artist says he paints quickly. “Each layer feeds the next. I see the skin of the canvas as paint. Just as we humans pick up wrinkles, scars and bruises on our skin as we go through life, so do these works of art.”
Believing wholeheartedly in the integrity of the line, White strives to paint in an authentic way, but says this requires a willingness to not see the works as precious. For him, it is the act of painting that is important, not the painting itself. This explains his carefreeness in applying an almost Jackson Pollock approach in his final layers, without regard for spoiling the image beneath. Letting go of this attachment generates an authentic energy that would not be possible with even the slightest apprehension.
A pragmatist at heart, White acknowledges that true authenticity is tough to achieve, especially when you factor in real life and the fact that he has to be able to sell and live off his art, but nevertheless it’s that conscious intent that drives him to continually reinvent himself as an artist.