Erik Daniel White | Reflecting American attitudes

Published on
January 24, 2022
Base Off a Childish View of the World | 69 x 51 inches | 2018 | Oil on Canvas | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 
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Erik Daniel White | Photo Credit: Carolina Brown | 2021

Munchies Art Club presents its newest featured artist contemporary artist Erik Daniel White. Erik is a visual artist living and working in New York. We discovered Erik on the artist Jasmin Edelbrunner’s List of her favorite artists on Instagram.

Who is Erik Daniel White?

I was born in 1988 in Salt Lake City, Utah. I received my B.S. in Art Practices from Portland State University in 2013 in Portland, Oregon.

While at PSU I received the Lucille Welch Endowed Scholarship based off my artistic accomplishments. I received my MFA in Painting from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in May 2019.

I am a current resident at Arteles Creative Center in Haukijärvi, Finland.

My permanent residence is in upstate New York. 

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The Dance of Death (after a Hans Holbein print) | 22 x 60 inches | 2021 | Oil on Canvas | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White

I make small scale sculptures out of cardboard, hot glue, and plasticine. I use those sculptures as models for large scale paintings.

Many of my paintings are reflections on America’s attitudes towards the environment, liberty, religion, competition, etc. 

They allude to political failures and national shortcomings.

I have to make art for my well-being.

I use clay because it comes across as playful and innocent which helps disarm the viewer.

Also, the malleability of the clay is a nice metaphor for the socially constructed ideas imbued in the imagery. 

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Sunset Two | 31.25 x 47 inches | 2019 | Oil on Linen | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

We asked Erik a couple of questions:

Was it always clear to you that you wanted to be an artist?

I always made art as a child and always wanted to become an artist but then I stopped making art in my teens and young adult life.

I was headed in the direction of science and in college I studied environmental studies before eventually switching into art. 

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Installation shot of, Red Meat, from my two person show with Sarah Hummel Jones, I borrow my comparisons from clay, being clay myself, at Amplify Arts in Omaha, NE | 2019 |  | Photo credit: Debra Kaplan 

It took me a long time to convince myself that I should go into art. I knew from the beginning that it was going to be difficult to make a living as an artist.

But then the prospect of doing anything else in life was daunting. I have to make art for my well-being. 

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Under the Banner of Heaven | 36 x 48 inches | 2018 | Oil on Linen | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

Has your family been supportive? Are there others in your family that are artistic in any way?

In the beginning they weren’t particularly happy that I chose art as a “career” but they’ve always been supportive and over the years they have become proud of some of the things I’ve created or accomplished.

There are a lot of scientists in my family except for my mother who is a trained architect.

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Installation shot of, Based Off a Childish View of the World and Peace Out | Solo show, Malleable Perspectives at Eisentrager-Howard Gallery, Lincoln, NE, 2019 | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

Your paintings are so vivid, I had to look twice to figure they were paintings. You bring across light and shadow so realistically. Do you work with clay before you paint? 

Yes, I use clay as a way to sketch out the paintings. I use plasticine clay which has oil as the base so that it never dries.

I go through a ton of different models or scenes before I find something that I’m satisfied with. 

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Sunset One | 31.25 x 47 inches | 2019 | Oil on Linen | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

Clay is what I like to use to work out the ideas so I think of it as a drawing even though its three dimensional.

The clay models have allowed me to take complete control over the imagery and the ideas.

In my early years as an artist, I was reliant on other people’s pictures for inspiration.

With the clay, I become the maker of the environment or scene. 

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Installation shot of, In Bad Faith and Under the Banner of Heaven, from my solo show, Malleable Perspectives at Eisentrager-Howard Gallery in Lincoln, NE, 2019 | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

As a visual artist, what other mediums other than painting do you enjoy?

I enjoy all forms of art: written word, film, music, architecture, dance, design in furniture or clothing, etc.

I enjoy all types of art. It doesn’t matter what medium it is and I don’t believe in a hierarchy of mediums. If anything, painting should probably be at the bottom because of how static it is.

But then again when you get really close and personal with a painting you can see layers on layers and textures and colors interacting with each other that can really knock your socks off. 

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Winner Takes All | 66.5 x 75.5 | 2019 | Oil on Canvas | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

Painting doesn’t demand your time in the same way that a film does, you’re free to come and go and spend as long or as little as you want.

All the mediums are interesting on their own and have properties that make them unique and wonderful. 

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Chirp, Chirp | 32 x 36.75 inches | 2019 | Oil on Linen | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

You are currently at a Residency in Finland, could you tell us a bit about that?

I am currently at an artist residency in Finland called Arteles which is west of Tampere in a place called Haukijärvi.

The landscape is beautiful and the environment inside the residency is peaceful. I am working in the studio every day and that feels very good.

It’s quiet here which has been good for my work, I’m excited with the work that I am creating here and look forward to sharing it. I will be here until the end of January.

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Red Meat | 46 x 30.5 inches | 2019 | Oil on Linen | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

What are you planning on after your residency?

I have no solid plans but I really hope to show the art that I make here at a gallery. I would love to explore more of Europe but I am only allowed to stay for 90 days without a visa.

One day I would really like to return and live in Europe but haven’t figure out how to do it.

What is your working practice? Time of day? Loud or silent? With others or alone? Where do you work? Is it ideal?

I really need to be alone and it needs to be quiet with no interruptions, for many hours. Sometimes I put on really loud music but if someone else is in the room I usually just end up socializing the whole time. My process is to work myself up in a frenzy before I start painting. I start out most days reading with coffee. 

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Funny Money | 72 x 31 inches | 2018 | Oil on Canvas | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

When I get into the studio, I usually just play with stuff lying around: clay, drawings, photos etc. and then I procrastinate and procrastinate and then I get mad at myself and I start painting.

I welcome distractions so it’s really important to try and remove the distractions completely.

Phones and the internet are the devil when it comes to my art practice. 

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Vase of Flowers | 48 x 36 inches | 2021 | Oil on Canvas | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

Back home my studio is a small bedroom inside of my house. It’s not ideal because of all the distractions inside the house.

It would be better to have a studio outside of the house but those cost a lot of money and I don’t have a lot of money.

One day I would really like to have a studio near me but detached. Something with really high ceilings and large windows. 

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Base Off a Childish View of the World | 69 x 51 inches | 2018 | Oil on Canvas | Photo Credit: Erik Daniel White 

Has the pandemic left a mark on your work?

I’m not sure yet, probably. I moved 6 times during the pandemic, I have not gotten anything substantial done, I have been very distracted. 

America really botched it up. We have not done a great job handling the pandemic. I made, “The Dance of Death” painting during the pandemic to kind of articulate those frustrated feelings I had with our government and society. I’m sure I’ll make more. What I’m making now is kind of a reflection on our new world but I don’t want to talk about it, it’s too fresh, and I might abandon it. 

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Installation shot of, Sunset One, from my two person show with Sarah Hummel Jones, I borrow my comparisons from clay, being clay myself, at Amplify Arts in Omaha, NE, 2019 | Photo credit: Debra Kaplan 

What role does Instagram play for you?

I really don’t like Instagram. It is evil on so many levels. 

But it is nice for meeting new people and getting opportunities but I’d rather meet new people in person, in the gallery but I guess it’s not possible or not feasible to meet people across the world. 

I’ll concede, Instagram allows you to do that.  I’m not really posting any new work on Instagram though. I think paintings should be experienced in person. Instagram flattens the experience and it dulls our senses. We aren’t really looking when we’re on it and we are constantly distracted. 

I layer my surface with 20 layers of gesso and I spend days sanding it down so that it is as smooth as a tooth. It allows you to see every brush stroke and not get distracted by the weave of the canvas. 

My blacks are built up with pure colors that are layered on top of each other and it resonates, in person. You can’t see the 20 layers of gesso on Instagram and the blacks look flat. 

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Erik Daniel White | Photo Credit: Carolina Brown | 2021

I am never inspired to create something after I’ve spent a bunch of time on Instagram. 

I get burnt out and depressed. It’s the opposite when I go to a museum or go into a library. 

I can spend many hours at the library flipping through hundreds of art books, looking at thousands of images, and I am on fire, I get so many ideas and all I want to do is go home and make art. 

The same thing happens when I go to museums, I can spend all day in the museum. I am usually there from open to close and I feel so good afterwards.

I’m a hypocrite though because on more than one occasion I will see a gallery or an artist post on Instagram and it’ll motivate me to go out and see it in person. 

So, for me, Instagram advertises an experience, it doesn’t replace it. 

Anything else you might like to share?

Thank you for reaching out to me and keep doing what you’re doing. 

Follow the artist on Instagram:

A big thank you to the very talented Erik for sharing his work and story with us to share with you!

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