There is an eerie silence in Paul White’s gently rendered imagery, an unspoken melancholia, as though the entire world has been ceased via a pause button. But the sheer lack of movement of machines designed for transit is only a part of it.
Where are the people?
White’s world is one of stasis. The trailer home, the railway freight car, the dismembered planes are all captured with a stillness that borders on the uncanny. One is, to an extent, reminded of the cinematic scenes in films like Silent Running, I Am Legend and The Omega Man where humanity has, quite simply, vanished.
Humans love travel, perhaps a throwback to our nomadic heritage. With the discovery of the wheel we travel across the globe with nary a thought to distance; the trailer home is designed to withstand the heat and wind of the Nevada desert, air-conditioned and cosy, a mobile lounge-room complete with refrigerator and television. But in White’s world the trailer has stilled, attracting the inevitable graffiti and tags; a secret language indecipherable to those outside its immediate language-group.
Similarly, there are signs of life amidst the trunks of planes lying askew in the fields. These are not, as one immediately assumes, wrecks per se; the violence they have encountered is the result of meticulous scavenging and salvaging.
But still, one wonders, where are the scavengers and the taggers, where are the drivers or even, amidst the mass of military jets, the pilots?
Paul White’s obsessive, and even loving, rendering of these vehicles has two key sources. The first is simply that he grew up in the suburbs of Western Sydney where cars were ubiquitous (and, ironically, what could be more suburban that the motor home which, despite being designed for movement, tends to live its life moldering in suburban front yards). Trains and planes were those things of dreams, means to travel vast distances away from the mediocrity of everyday life.
The second core influence is indeed travel and much of the work here was inspired by journeys through what are known as the American badlands, the thousands of miles of desert littered with abandoned motor homes and freight trains in various states of entropy, barely harnessing the energy to even rust. White knows this landscape well, spending time on the road during his time securing a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles where he studied under the Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship. The vast distances of harsh desert light imbuing every object with a strange radiance and he has returned there several times, most recently in 2011 to research and execute the work in this exhibition.
In 2010 White took out the Metro Gallery Judges’ Prize for his oil pencil on paper work Lost Dreaming of Dinosaurs under Fossil Fuelled Rainbows. One of the judges, fellow artist Sam Leach, said at the time: “This work won on several counts. The strength of White’s drawing, his draughtsmanship and composition, is astounding. He also moves beyond the traditional 19th century notion of depicting the beauty of nature to portraying a haunting beauty in industrial waste. In doing so, he has successfully defined a new version of artistic romanticism for our current era. At the same time, he clearly understands and highlights the environmental problems associated with our throwaway society. It’s a brilliant conceptual work on all levels.”
As Leach noted, there is a strange beauty to these works. If there is an ‘environmental message’ in these works it is balanced with sheer love of form. Despite the lightness of palette here, the industrial weight of the freight cars is palpable, the dangerously sleek lines of the immobile fighter jets seem to lie in readiness, the motor homes waiting patiently for one last road trip.
In a day and age where so much visual art relies upon intellectual trickery, Paul White returns to notions of form and composition, finding a perfect balance between roadside detritus and silent machinery, finding poetry in a lack of motion and finding pause in a world of movement.
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