A Love Letter to Nancy White’s Abstract Paintings

When the slices of color are more saturated, more easily named, like the dusty orange smudge and dipping tip in the upper left corner of a canvas, it feels like a giveaway. A pool of purple acts like an unexpected slight smile that makes you blush uncontrollably. Such moments pierce rational thought. They turn my brain into goo.

Nancy White, “Untitled”, 3–2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Romer Young)

And then there is the cohesion of the whole exhibition. Through a repetition of certain elements (canvas size, type of painting, surface texture, names of works), the slight changes in color and form in each of White’s paintings become all the more dramatic. Overall, the paintings create a sort of gradient on the gallery walls. Navy blue to green to red to lilac to cobalt; the paints work like the changes in a mood ring, changing color without telling you why.

White exploits essential forms, rendering archways, caves, surfaces and shadows as discrete planes of flat color. At least, these are the “things” I read in his paintings, which prompt the viewer to imagine extraterrestrial landscapes in the vein of Monet’s haystacks. What does the surface of Mars look like at different times during its slightly longer day than ours?

If White’s paintings are windows to another world, it is a world in which foreground and background are confused. Darker colors imply distance, but sometimes White’s darker forms sit before lighter ones, confusing any attempt to define the space of a given painting. On each 208 square inch surface, she uses only a dozen different colors, yet there is so much to see and analyze with each encounter between slightly differentiated areas of color. Sometimes the paintings look like studies in simultaneous contrast. How do we know which colors are really different, or just appear so because of their surroundings? I felt manipulated and loved it.

Nancy White, “Untitled”, 2–2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Romer Young)

At one point, New job my mouth was dry, struggling to remember the names of colors that I became increasingly certain that White habitually and casually uses. Was that sagging, jagged curve actually ultramarine blue? Can I use the word cerulean with confidence?

But then I relaxed, stepped back to examine the gradations between evenly spaced canvases in Romer Young’s white box. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never inhabit the space behind White’s linen surface. I sighed. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.

“New Work” by Nancy White is on view at the Romer Young Gallery until February 15, 2020. Details here.

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