“C.S. White Artist” hardly encapsulates the artistic range and diversity of careers of this 63-year-old great-grandson of fabled American architect Stanford White, and nephew of Aldous Huxley. His résumé includes life-drawing lessons at age 10 and studies thereafter with masters in this country and abroad. White has a BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and he lectures and exhibits widely.
“Sag Harbor Main Street” uses light in such an evocative way that the viewer can almost smell the warm after-rain air. How did you affect this atmosphere?
It was a gray day and I sat on a bench and painted. I wanted a certain mood—the perspective moves the eye along in a way that creates that mood. It was off-season, so there are no people, and I wanted the viewer to be almost unaware of the paint. [John Singer] Sargent, a friend of my great grandfather, and Winslow Homer really knew how to do that.
You say that you’re better known for oil and gouache. Where does watercolor fit in?
Historically, watercolor came first, along with drawing, but I regarded it for some time as my least adept medium. It’s tricky, especially for a colorist. It’s a subtractive medium as opposed to additive, such as oil, which accommodates layering, impasto, glaze. Some watercolorists like to draw sketches first or include lines in the actual painting, but I don’t. My father objected to using pencil, and Sargent said if you use it at all, use it sparingly. Self-confidence and self-doubt show themselves in watercolor. I enjoy the spontaneity, the speed, of watercolor. I use special brushes, Series 7 Kalinski sable, though they’re hard to find, and expensive.
A few years ago the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Stony Brook hosted an exhibition, Four Generations of Whites. How do you see your heritage?
It’s five generations—my sons, painters and sculptors, were in a more recent show at the Art League of Long Island. I see my artistic legacy as coming from both my mother’s and my father’s side. My maternal grandfather was the Dutch painter and stained glass artist Joep Nicolas. My mother, Claire Nicolas White, is a poet, novelist, memoirist and translator. One of many other influential people in my life was Robert Kulicke [d. 2007], a renaissance artist, who was a painter, goldsmith, teacher, businessman and innovative frame designer. He taught that all work was related. As an artist I not only draw and paint, including trompe l’oeil, I do welding, sculpture, jewelry design and stained glass.
How might you explain your life as an artist and your years as gymnastics coach for the Brown University women’s varsity team, and as a stage acrobat and doing stunt work for national commercials and film and television?
It’s important to do something entirely different. I recently gave a talk at the Stony Brook Center for Integration of Business Education and Humanities called “Why on Earth Should I Study Art in Business School?” I spoke about how art was strategic for Steve Jobs and other business CEOs in stimulating creativity and aiding in decision-making. Jobs said taking classes in calligraphy, learning about fonts and the spacing of letters, had been important for him in design.
Christian White exhibits at Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor. Next month he will have a piece at Gallery North in Setauket and in July will be showing at the Nassau County Museum. He also exhibits at the newly founded Reboli Atelier in St. James.