Carolyn White

S. L. Simpson Gallery

Carolyn White’s near mural-size photopaintings of men and women weeping adopt the conventions of traditional portraiture to examine the distinctions which separate photography and painting. The product of an adapted, computerized spray-printing process, commonly seen in billboard advertising, these ten works are experienced in the gallery as a barrage to the senses; they engulf the viewer in a sea of spent tears, swollen lips, and suspect emotion.

White has created a catchall of art chic. She references the scale, subject, and pointillist technique of Chuck Close, while adopting the earnestness associated with Thomas Ruff and the Düsseldorf school of photography. In the course of merging historically-based portrait painting with photography, she asserts her own place within this bastion of male bravado, creating works that are aggressive in scale and impact.

White clearly attempts to represent the multicultural make up of Toronto, and although her selections are more or less demographically accurate, the mix of Asians, whites, women, and men of a variety of ages is so politically sensitive that there is something mannered about their presentation. Although her art is deliberate, it is no more orchestrated than Ruff’s perfectly scrubbed subjects. What is surprising about these photopaintings is that they move beyond the documentary. White trades the objectivity of photography for the subjectivity of painting; the shift from the object back to the subject is the dialectic she exploits. In her photographs we are privy to an intimate moment that is elevated to grotesque proportions. Her models conceal any gesture which might personalize these bizarre portraits; their formality suggests that emotion is specifically generated for a public audience. Are the expressions White’s subject reveal any different from the crocodile tears shed in a melodrama or the selected images that are carefully filtered to us on the nightly news? White has hit a nerve and drawn us in by forcing us to confront the artifice of her representations.

Linda Genereux