“I call this one ‘losing an argument to the voices in my head,’” says Natalie White, gravitating towards one in all her massive fabric-based work hanging on the partitions of Freight+Volume within the Lower East Side. “There was literally an argument happening in my head, between two of my friends that weren’t there,” White continues to explain of the piece, marked with bleach and included in her solo gallery exhibition “The Bleach Paintings.” “But, you know, I started to go a little bit crazy during the lockdown.”
A 12 months in the past, White was settling into an artwork residency run by Freight+Volume cofounder Nick Lawrence in Provincetown, Mass. White had simply flown in from Mexico, the place she spent the early days of the lockdown; earlier than that, her gallery present in Brooklyn had been open for less than two days when New York shut down. (She was grateful that the gallery at the least had loads of home windows, for outdoor viewing.)
In Provincetown, White was unable to entry her typical artwork supplies, and artwork shops had been closed; the wait time to have oil paints or acrylics delivered was weeks or months out.
“I started going insane by not being able to have a creative outlet. I had all of this time on my hands inside. And so I looked around the house,” says White. “At the place I was staying, there was bleach, and there were bedsheets. And I was like, well, I think I can do something with the two of these.”
She duct-taped a mattress sheet to the wall, and started portray tiny, repetitive marks on the material with the bleach. “I call these ‘the confinement paintings,’ because I feel like I was just marking the time,” she says of her early explorations. “I found it really therapeutic and a way to get my energy out.”
After awhile, she started making use of larger brush strokes — she refers to these subsequent works as her “energy paintings” — and moved away from utilizing mattress sheets when she situated an area material retailer open by appointment. “I had no more bedsheets. I was sleeping on a bare bed with just a comforter. I even used the pillow sham,” she says
Although she felt remoted from her sometimes extroverted way of life whereas in residency, she credit the downtime for pushing her to broaden her follow. In latest years, White has centered her inventive vitality on selling the Equal Rights Amendment; in 2015 she walked to D.C. as a part of a efficiency piece and painted “ERA” on the steps of the Capitol Building, and launched the Equal Means Equal marketing campaign in 2019 with a big flag work.
“I would’ve never thought to make work like this,” says White of experimenting with bleach whereas in lockdown. “I would’ve never had the time to actually sit down and get into the studio and go in every day.”
She made about two works per week, initially not pondering when it comes to a gallery present; she wasn’t certain if she would ever present them. (And, at first, catastrophic pondering led her to wonder if there would even ever be one other gallery present.) That uncertainty about how issues would end up prolonged to her work; White was by no means sure what shade the bleach would render on the materials. When making use of bleach to black material resulted in golden brown marks, she pivoted to depictions of galaxies, utilizing bottle tops discovered across the studio to create planets and suns and moons amid the celestial gold splatters. On the alternative wall, she describes the sparse pink markings on vivid purple material as being “alien morse code” (and had been partially the results of an unintentional bleach spill on a spool of material.) “I was in the galaxy creating phase and then I was like, well, what, would the galaxies say?” she says.
White isn’t certain what the code says, and he or she additionally isn’t certain what the broader physique of labor was about when she first began making it. Even now, she’s hesitant to provide a story apart from her course of and expertise within the second.
“I’m looking around and I’m seeing things that just came out of my brain,” she says. “I have no idea what these are about. This all came from my subconscious. There was no forethought, no forethought at all. It was just about doing it.” And perhaps that’s what the work is about — enduring uncertainty, making presence tangible via the gesture of artwork.
The works had been hand-sewn onto muslin canvases, the material left unsteamed and edges left uncovered and jagged; imperfect.
“I really wanted to show the edges, because the edges are so important to what was going on in my head,” she says. “[These paintings] were made during a time of chaos in my mind. So I left them wrinkly. I didn’t steam them. All of this is part of the work. These folds, these lines, these wrinkles — it’s all part of the art.”
More From the Eye:
Enoc Perez’s Drawings, on View at Skarstedt Gallery in East Hampton, Make Sense of the Chaos
Peter Saul Hasn’t Run Out of New Subjects to Paint
Almine Rech Brings the Salon Approach to New York