For his solo gallery debut, titled “HUMAN: NATURE,” Christopher David White sent an impressive body of work from his studio in Richmond, VA. Seattle is an appropriate venue for the 40-year-old Indiana-born, Indiana University-educated artist. To make him welcome are several, more widely known artists who also reflect environmental alarm including painters such as Nathan DiPietro and Mary Iverson, as well as ceramists like Paul Metivier and Richard Notkin.
Not only are White’s sculptures metaphors for material, natural and human transformations, we can often see the transitions occurring before our eyes: sand becomes flesh in Tipping Point (almost all works are 2016), oil overwhelms skin in Get a Grip, and toxic plants sprout from fingertips in First Contact. As with the other “natural catastrophe” artists, crisis is depicted as slow-growth and subtle, but nonetheless inexorable and inevitable, given the way the world is going. Heart of Gold nods to anatomical hearts in Richard Notkin, but avoiding the latter’s teapot format, White enlarges size, turns the aortas into driftwood antlers, and freezes seeping yellow goo midway. Switching body parts, a hand and fingers define and simplify Within Arm’s Reach and Decay Index, the latter a row of nine severed digits eerily realistic and clinical-looking; the former is a lonely hand extending from a framed, painted sky-and-clouds background.
With its punning title and amusingly gruesome subject, Food for Thought, a brain in a big halved walnut shell, pushes closer to the work of West Coast clay artists like the illusionistic still lifes of Richard Shaw or the witty orotundities of Robert Arneson. More complex and smaller, Key Stone (2015), a 7-and-a-half-inch high human skull mounted on faux-metal piping, has tiny acorns for eyes. Besides the memento mori precedent of the Roman catacombs, White’s version is compressed, as is The Great Motivator, a 3D version of the Masonic pyramid on the dollar bill. Painted the same color as US currency and yet smaller at 5-and-a-half inches high, The Great Motivator suggests that, for White, a new intimacy of scale, already seen in Ken Price, Ron Nagle and Kathy Butterly, may be a more fruitful direction. And one more thing: trompe l’oeil realism in ceramics is somewhere to visit, but tough to emigrate permanently.