Wendy White | Jaywalking Signs
by Dr. Gudrun Bott
From the exhibition catalog
Wendy White: Low Pressure, Museum Goch (2021)

Scholarly work requires an exacting consideration of methods in order to clarify the extent to which one’s own point of viewmay influence the chosen procedures. This striving for objectivity is meant to ensure reliable and relevant results.

Different parameters apply to art. Art comes about in an open-ended process comprising both production andreception. This freedom is at the core of Wendy White’s work. Gazing at the objects she makes, we are caught up between distance and fascination, cool observation and the urge to take a stance, tongue-in-cheek juggling and probing scepticism. In developing her subjects, the artist ranges across a wide field of simultaneities and ambivalences.

Her inexhaustible source of inspiration is American popular culture with its familiar products, signs and symbols, idols, images and imaginary worlds. Assuming by turns the attitude of fascinated participant and critical commentator, White blithely yet rigorously brushes everything against the grain. She transposes common contextual connections and connotations, inverts proportions, shifts meanings, and abolishes supposed distinctions such as that between the digital and analogue worlds.

With a playful relish in transformation, she generates culture clashes and underpins them with a mix of irreverent appropriation and casual wit. Adopting an innocent air, she loves to encroach on traditional male territory. The bold brushstroke, for example, the epitome of macho American painting, is framed as a monumental, centrally exposed motif by a patchwork of discarded jeans worn by “big” men. And the artist’s forays through thrift shops in search of plus-size trousers makes it clear that she doesn’t mean “big” here inthe gurative sense. The huge variety of what she turned up evidently so impressed her that she also used her finds to cover seating furniture whose cushion covers can hardly conceal their origin—in short, a comfy repertoire of exuberant ordinariness. Or perhaps of masculinity en bloc, the baggy jeans now made to conform to a strict formal concept and thenset free again for banal daily use. The bleach the artist poured all over the denim created a speckled look that is probably to be understood as more than just a unifying pattern on a formal level and perhaps also as an affirmation of the current upcycling trend, as a decorative retro design from the 1970s, or as an ironic quotation of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. But perhaps it also trickles something of the progressive toxicity of the 1980s punk aesthetic over the promise of an absentminded tryst on these very armchairs.

Neither the trademarks of fellow artists nor the logos and brands of well-known product manufacturers are safe from Wendy White’s grasp: the Adidas trefoil, the Nike swoosh, Robert Rauschenberg’s crushed can, Frank Stella’s shaped canvas—everything is recycled and suddenly reverberates on a different frequency in the echo chamber of her art. Pop and hippie imagery leave their mark, as do graffiti and street art. The artist treats her materials in a similar way to her motifs, reinterpreting, shifting and relocating their origins in order to transfer them into the space that is just emerging in a work. A peace sign machined from Dibond dangling from the ceiling on commercial rainbow-striped packing straps merges more than just two disparate worlds. In other pieces, plastic strips meander along and beyond the edges of the picture—a kind of “superstructure” for the painterly events taking place on the picture plane that resembles, depending on the viewing angle, either cable ducts from the DIY store or Frank Stella’s shaped canvases.

With her insouciant reversal and redefinition of familiar relationships, White delves into the modalities shaping our visual world, including the question of how the analogue and the digital are intertwined. When tiny screen icons and emojis 
that have become a global language venture out of their inconspicuous existence as digital miniatures to oat as sculptures through space, they assert a different, stronger presence than they are meant to have. Cloud, pixel heart, rainbow and peace sign become independent objects, moving through installations like comic observers. It’s as if here, at last, these omnipresent yet mostly overlooked signposts have a chance to demonstrate what they really stand for – but also to wonder at the use we make of them.

The extent to which the urban context inspires Wendy White’s choice of motifs, materials and processes is demonstrated particularly by pictures that incorporate fragments of writing. This is writing that is not meant to be read but rather to create atmospheric passages that simulate how we perceive it only in passing. A city like New York generates an onrush of simultaneous and overlapping impressions that we cannot instantly digest or grasp and yet inscribe themselves in our memory as transient encounters. For the artist, such stimuli provide readily available material for constructing her pictorial spaces.

Wendy White relies on the power of art to elicit intuitive comprehension in an open system of references, quotations, ambivalences, fragments, paradoxes and associations. Combining playful experimentation with precise composition, she creates spaces that leave room for imagined visions that transcend the horizon of the old familiar interpretations and thus make way for new configurations.

White’s works offer us a wealth of loose threads that we can weave together as we wish, promising us a colourful fabric of ideas rather than fixed and finite messages.
“Making something that takes up a different kind of space, that’s what I love.”