By Anna Weltner
Winters in Paso Robles are hardly white. They’re more of a brown. But white, wherever you are, is nevertheless the soul of winter. Lonely, unforgiving, cold, and clean, it is more a void than a color. But just as the death of winter begets the promise of spring, white can also represent infinite possibility, a blank canvas on which to project our ambitions and desires.
This color, or lack thereof, is also the inspiration for a juried exhibit at Paso’s Studios on the Park. “Winter White,” which hangs through Jan. 1, represents more than 30 artists’ interpretations of white across several different media.
The show’s juror, local artist John Cosby, was charged with judging artistic success in many different incarnations and awarding prizes accordingly.
Asked how one could compare such disparate media as ceramic sculpture, collage, and oil painting, Cosby explained, “I’m looking for a successful thought that was carried through. … Success and failure show themselves very readily in any medium.”
There is Tom Peck’s Into the North Wind, a ceramic sculpture of a cloaked, hooded, androgynous figure bowing under the elements, face obscured, striding resolutely forth. The silver-tinged work, which was awarded Best in Show in the three-dimensional category, appears almost to emerge from the shadows.
Some works are eloquent interpretations of the season’s barren coldness, while others are cuter, cozier visions of winter, like paintings of people all bundled up.
In the 2-D category, Studios on the Park founder Anne Laddon received Best in Show (in a blind selection, mind you!) for her oil painting Egg Whites (From Claudia’s Chickens). The piece possesses none of the barren coldness of works by Peck or photographer A.J. Vincolisi, but is a prime example of how color can be used to express whiteness. Her neat rows of eggs are shaded in pink, blue, green, and yellow hues, but close your eyes and try to recall their color, and you merely see white and tan.
“White is a very interesting thing; it takes on all of the other colors around it,” Cosby commented during my visit to Studios, where he’d just finished jurying the show.
Perhaps no other artist in the show has dwelt on this idea as much as WB Eckert, whose September show “Dreams in a Rorschach Garden” explored, among other themes, the alternating reflectivity and translucence of white calla lilies. (A piece from Eckert’s lilies series narrowly made the show: Cosby, having initially ruled it out, seemed to have a change of heart, and, over the course of our interview, brought the piece back into the fold.)
It’s hard to believe A.J. Vincolisi’s eerily beautiful Rogue in Fog is a photograph, as its clean simplicity is more suggestive of a skillfully rendered graphite drawing on white paper. A sailboat surrounded by a white haze appears reduced to its essence: just a few elegant lines, which the glassy water reflects as a mere ghost. The piece garnered Vincolisi, who operates the B-W Gallery in Atascadero, an Award of Excellence.
That honor also went to Jeanette Wolff’s gorgeous Chance of Flurries, an oil painting of a figure trudging through a white landscape. The scene borders on abstraction in places, Wolff’s wonderfully unkempt brush strokes evoking the blustering whimsy of dancing snowflakes.
Fine art photographer Alison Watt Jackson’s Stepping in, a lovely black-and-white of a nude woman disappearing into a shroud of white blooms, culled from her recent series “The Goddess Within,” was among eight pieces to receive an Honorable Mention—as was Joy Krull’s still life Raspberry Rest Stop.
But juror Cosby was also charged with determining which pieces didn’t make the show and why, a task he approached with an iciness befitting the subject matter.
“I’m very brutal,” he asserted. “I’m cold about success and failure.”
A reject pile awaits its creators in one corner. I’m probably not supposed to look at them, but I’m curious. Of some pieces, I think, sure, I understand why that didn’t get in. Then I spy Nicole Anderson’s majestic painting El Pilar, a leaping, muscled white horse, surrounded by sinister-looking shadowy figures, and I don’t understand anymore. Actually, in the face of such beauty discarded, the business of awards starts to seem bizarre—even arbitrary.
No two Arts Editor Anna Weltners are alike. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Winter White” hangs in the atrium at Studios on the Park, 1130 Pine St. in Paso Robles, through Jan. 1. Visit studiosonthepark.org or call 238-9800.