Artist Anthony White went from graduating Cornish last May to selling all of his paintings before opening night of his debut exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery. His curatorial work has also taken off. More than 300 artists now participate in “While Supplies Last,” one-night-only shows in which all the artworks are priced at $30.
It’s been quite a ride for 24-year-old artist Anthony White. Over the past few months, he’s been called Seattle’s “buzziest artist” and “the boy wonder of Seattle’s visual art scene.” The hype surrounding Anthony White is warranted: his work is very, very good. His exuberant portraits and still lifes display young bodies and brand names, bringing together concept, content, and technique in a way that’s both sophisticated and accessible.
With strands of melted plastic, White creates big, bright paintings and smaller sculptures of consumerist abundance and socially mediated self-representation. We see selfies and bathroom mirrors and designer accessories piled together with art historical references and fast-food wrappers.
The extensive media coverage has pointed out how uniquely rapid his trajectory has been. Just last May, White graduated from Cornish College of the Arts (disclosure: I taught White at Cornish). His BFA exhibition not only sold out — a rare occurrence — it led to representation by Greg Kucera, owner of one of the most prestigious art galleries in Seattle. And now, White’s debut exhibition at the Greg Kucera Gallery is being met with critical and commercial success; all of the paintings were bought before opening night and, at press time, there were just a few of his smaller sculptural objects still available.
What can get lost in the swirl of attention surrounding White is the profound intimacy of his pieces and his commitment to build community through curating work by other artists. He’s organizing two exhibitions in February: “Ultra Light Beams” and “While Supplies Last,” both at Mount Analogue. In his own art and in his curation of others’ work, certain themes come across: social connections, digital savviness, and leveling traditional boundaries between fine art and pop culture.
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Recently, I visited White in his modest Chinatown International District studio, where he talked about the people he lovingly portrays in his paintings and his efforts to showcase other artists’ work. His portraits are always of people he knows, and he takes care not to modify their original poses from the selfie photos they give him. White says, “The intimacy comes from the selfie. You’re in a vulnerable situation where you’re about to display yourself and looking at yourself in the mirror is an intimate thing. Then, it takes so long for me to make each piece, so I’m staring at this person that I’m remaking. I spend all day and all night with the subjects and the original photos that they choose to send me.”
And then White adds things in. A lot of things. Half-eaten fruit in the background, crumpled bills on top of bodies, graffiti and stickers across surfaces. He says, “Consumption and the selfie go hand and hand; this is how we want people to recognize us. To take that one step further, I add in accessories or products that not only help the viewer understand the kind of the person or setting but they’re also little personal signals and signifiers to define that person and how I know them.”
He talks about his jumbled still-life paintings in a similar way. “This is my practice: putting everything on the same playing field. … I look at a lot of Dutch still-life paintings and think about how they once claimed wealth or status in the same way that brands do now. I throw in very specific, exclusive products that you can only order online or from a certain factory in Italy. And I always throw in obsolete technology or something that’s gone bad. Everything ends up in the same destination.”
White’s interest in flattening hierarchies comes through in his curatorial activities, too. About a year ago, he launched “While Supplies Last,” a project that brings together a variety of artists for online networking and one-night-only art shows at various locations in Seattle. All of the small works are on paper and priced at $30.
The response — both from artists and buyers — has been tremendous. More than 300 artists now participate, and a lot of pieces go out the door with people who have never bought art before. “It’s really about getting people together and making art affordable,” White says, rifling through one of the file cabinets that neatly stores the work for upcoming shows. “Some of the artists are way more established than others but they send in work because they love the idea of it.”
Sharon Arnold, founder of Bridge Productions and one of White’s instructors at Cornish, notes, “It’s one thing to strive for and achieve success, singularly; it’s another to do that and continue to lift up the people around you and reach out to people you have yet to meet and bring everyone together. Anthony is placing himself in an established lineage of artists who work beyond their own studios to include others and that’s significant.”
When Mount Analogue’s Colleen Louise Barry invited White to use the gallery space, he knew he wanted to organize a group show featuring some of the connections he’s made through “While Supplies Last.” The show, which White has titled “Ultra Light Beams,” features 12 artists who explore “a day-glo painting style and its relation to post-analog rhythms and aesthetics in the age of the internet,” according to his curatorial statement. White has also been invited to curate shows in artist-run spaces in Detroit and Los Angeles.
White says, “I have a network of artists. I know their work and can see how it could fit perfectly with different shows and themes. It’s about community-building.”
Lionel Vance, a junior at Cornish who is both friend and assistant to White, points out that White’s curatorial approach utilizes “the tools of modern day; he is a huge advocate of the idea of ‘relevance,’ staying relevant on Instagram, and using social platforms for outreach for the inclusion of artists worldwide.”
White’s ability to craft wide-reaching but highly personal connections comes through in his portraits as well. We gaze upon people gazing upon themselves through the filter of selfies circulated via cellphones and social media. Greg Kucera notes that White is “activating an interest that a lot of people have in contemporary digital culture. That’s the great role for artists, to pose questions about their culture and their moment to their audience.”
“Smoke and Mirrors,” 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Feb. 16; Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle; 206-624-0770, gregkucera.com
“While Supplies Last,” 5-9 p.m. Feb 22; Mount Analogue, 300 S. Washington St., Seattle; mount-analogue.com