erik daniel white
Inquiries about the work can be directed to Erik’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the artist.
I attentively paint hastily formed figures, symbols, objects and scenes that were modeled with never-dry clay onto stretched canvases of various sizes. The paintings depict the malleable character and the crude, unrefined treatment of the clay to suggest its fragility, impermanence, and its physical construction. Those visual attributes serve as a metaphor for the social construction of the concepts within the chosen imagery. My artistic process is very playful but the content of the images are usually about serious contemporary issues. Often, the figures, symbols, and scenes relate to my ideas surrounding current American attitudes.
For instance in my painting Based on a Childish View I wanted to talk about the fabricated fantasy that having a nice big suburban home with a nice big yard and a nice big car to drive around in will make us happy and keep us safe from the “dangerous” world outside when really that dream has adverse affects and is causing all kinds of social and environmental problems. There’s a really nice quote that sums up my impetus for this piece in a book called, “Crabgrass Frontier” by Kenneth T. Jackson. This particular quote is by Lewis Mumford, in which he writes, “In the suburb one might live and die without marring the image of an innocent world, except when some shadow of its evil fell over a column in the newspaper. Thus the suburb served as an asylum for the preservation of illusion. Here domesticity could flourish, forgetful of the exploitation on which so much of it was based. Here individuality could prosper, oblivious of the pervasive regimentation beyond. This was not merely a child-centered environment; it was based on a childish view of the world, in which reality was sacrificed to the pleasure principle.” We get so focused on our own purviews and we purposely ignore and distract ourselves from the extreme inequalities and global catastrophes that are happening around us even though our consumeristic lives and privileges couldn’t exist without the exploitation of other human beings and the natural world. We live in our own little fairytale fantasies. I purposely made the car disproportionately larger than the house, and at first this might appear to be a childish mistake, but I wanted to push the idea that the American suburbs are dependent on cars and long commutes.
I made the dollar bill and loose change paintings when the Republicans passed their tax bill that gave large tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthy. Two weeks after Trump passed his tax bill he started cutting funds for SNAP benefits and Medicaid for the poor. We are living in a time when the bottom 90% of the world only own 15% of its wealth and the top 1% own more than 50%. Our institutions are failing our poor right now and we should be ashamed of ourselves. It is a complete fantasy to think this idea and tax bill are going to help the majority of Americans and not widen the already catastrophic divide. Charles Darwin once wrote, “If the misery of our poor be caused not by laws of nature, but by our own institutions, great is our sin.”
With my paintings depicting the peace sign I wanted to discuss what the peace sign means today and how that meaning has changed over the past 60 years. There’s a scene from the movie, Groundhog Day that illustrates my ideas surrounding this body of work. In this scene the main character, Phil (played by Bill Murray) is trying to initiate an intimate relationship with the female lead, Rita (played by Andie MacDowell). Because the day keeps getting repeated over and over again, he has the ability to correct any hiccups in the day. At a certain point they order drinks at a bar, and Phil toasts to the groundhog. Rita replies, “I always toast to world peace.” It then cuts to the next day where Phil makes a heartfelt toast to world peace. This is a seminal moment for me for two reasons. First, Phil’s insincerity and ulterior motives when he makes his toast can be paralleled with the history of the commodification of the peace sign, which, in part, has caused the demise of its agency for change. This leads into my second reason: this scene feels antiquated and highly improbable today because I consider the majority of Americans no longer believe in world peace or the prospect of a world without conflict and war. People no longer make toasts to world peace because if they did, they would be seen as being overly romantic and naïve. My peace sign paintings are a nostalgic reflection on an optimistic world-view. I made this work to illustrate my hope that we can one day regain a mass vision of a better world.
Most of these paintings depict popular symbols and ideas that we each bring our own histories and distinct meanings to. My hope is that the paintings are used to rethink, reimagine, and converse about these ideas. Our political climate is becoming more and more polarized and I’m looking to find and develop a voice that is somewhat humorous and somewhat serious but which ultimately creates opportunities to discuss important issues.
What would you like to see more of out of the artworld?
I like the artists (and anyone really) who don’t see the world around them as a competition and encourage their friend’s progress and who get excited about their friend’s work and their own work. We need to stop seeing other people who do similar work as competing rivals but as potential friends and collaborators.
Who or what are your artistic inﬂuences and how have they impacted you or your work?
Lately I’ve been really into folk art or “outsider” art, things that were made because they just had to be made, by individuals who didn’t study art in any kind of institutional setting. There’s an amazing museum in Brownville, NE called the Flaterwater Folk Art Museum, which gets me very excited.
As far as working from clay, I’ve always been slightly obsessed with stop motion animation. In sixth grade I started to make my own stop-motion videos with clay. I liked the idea of having a small fabricated world try to pass as reality. I’m making a fantasy that is mimicking the outside world. As a young kid I also really enjoyed the works of Georges de La Tour, the French Baroque painter, who would paint these overly idealized figures that he made out of wax and would light them in candle light to create this nice chiaroscuro affect. You can tell there’s something off about them. There’s an oversimplification of the forms that make them feel uncanny and awkward. I think it’s an abstraction from reality that seems more real and honest than if you were going to paint directly from your subject.
Do you have any “rituals” that you have to do before, after, or during your art making to keep you creating or put you in the mood to create work?
I have to read a lot before I paint. I spend hours reading every day. Mostly I read the news or nonfiction. Then I make dozens of stupid sketches, nothing serious, most of the things I do isn’t very serious, and most of it is on scraps of paper that gets recycled or plasticine, never-dry clay that gets recycled. It’s a very playful and open process but it’s also a pretty regimented process. I can’t just come into the studio and start painting.