ROBIN WHITE Paintings, Drawings and Screen PrintsRobin White's recent Auckland showing at Lett's gallery was small but select. There were a few major paintings, such as Hoppers' Inlet, Sam Hunt and Hills across the Harbour, Florence at Home, Te Puke, and Allans' Beach. Pencil drawings of these subjects and some screen prints made up the bulk of the show.
As an exhibition it struck me as one of consolidation rather than experimentation. Robin White's stylistic origins go back to Rita Angus of the late 'thirties: but she is closest to Don Binney in both subject-matter and style. Allans' Beach is highly reminiscent of Binney's Te Henga coastal paintings of a few years ago. He, also, flattened his landscape forms and outlined them in black to emphasize contours as well as to organize surface and space. But whereas Don Binney retains an interest in paint quality to provide texture and modelling, Robin White almost eliminates impasto and brushwork. She relies less on the variety of local colour than Binney and the outlines and contours of her pictures are less sweeping than his. Robin White's works appear more cerebral and less lyrical than Binney's.
I find the clarity of Robin White's vision her most remarkable quality as an artist. Perhaps it is the discipline of working with the stencils used for screen-printing which has given her such powers of analysis and concentration. It is as if we normally see indistinctly until her pictures provide the optical aid to 'correct' our blurred perception of things. Each shape is precise, each line as crisp and sharp as a razor's edge. As in a moonscape there is no atmospheric softening to ease the transition from land to sky.
ROBIN WHITE, Florence at Home, Te Puke
oil on canvas, 120.5 x 74.5cm
(Barry lett Galleries)
Despite their 'realistic' subjects Robin White's pictures are highly abstract in construction. She is much aware of the flat nature of the picture-plane which she preserves at all costs. Perspective and foreshortening deny the diagrammatic quality she constantly seeks: consequently the buildings often appear front-on, hill and landscape forms in characteristic silhouette. She establishes space relationships by juxtapositions or overlaps, such as happens in the picture of Sam Hunt who is superimposed like a cut-out over the sea and landscape background.
Formal means are uppermost in my conception of Robin White the artist - though I suspect that some of her appeal lies in the regional subject-matter. This is the tricky area where familiarity comes dangerously close to banality. But part of her power lies in her ability to relate subjects to her style, so that one sheds light on the other. For example, in Florence at Home, Te Puke, the artist makes a telling social comment. The old lady stares blankly out at a suburban vista where tidiness and materialism have taken over. Robin White's style of painting here is a perfect vehicle for evoking the antiseptic order of modern suburbs, and providing a visual parody of their sterile geometry.