Waterford's Nelson H. White paints family portrait for lecture series
Traveling between the two places he calls home - Florence, Italy and Waterford - internationally renowned painter Nelson H.White will give a talk tonight at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. White is the second speaker in the 2014-15 lecture series, "Inside My Studio: The Artist Revealed," hosted by the school's alumni association.
The White family's artistic lineage began with his grandfather, Henry C. White (1861-1952), an early member of the Lyme Art Colony. His son Nelson C. White (1900-1989), who lived with his parents in the Florence Griswold House, followed in his father's footsteps, and Nelson H. White, born in New London in 1932, continues the family tradition of Impressionist/Tonalist painters.
White's work is in selected galleries and art institutions, including the Wadsworth Atheneum and New Britain Museum of American Art. He received the 2003 Venice Biennale Internazionale Career Award.
A great believer that it's never too late to learn and grow as an artist, when he's not painting White is studying at the Florence Academy of Art, where he is also a board member.
He talked to The Day from his Waterford home about his art and his family legacy.
Q. It must have been inspiring, but was it at all intimidating to grow up with a father and grandfather who were famous painters?
A. It meant a lot to me and was very helpful because my first instruction in drawing and painting was from my grandfather when I was about 13 - he was a wonderful teacher. Being around so much art that's all we talked about, and as they were such good painters, I used them as a standard for my own painting. So no, it wasn't intimidating.
Q. You attended Mitchell College in New London, but left to pursue music theory and composition and to study painting with your father and grandfather. In 1955 you became a full-time painter. Why did you decide painting would be your career path at that point?
A. I began to be convinced that I had more talent in painting than in music. It came to me much easier, painting. I play piano now and then. I was a violinist, but if you don't do it every day, you lose your intonations. But my music training means a great deal to me - I listen to classical music continually and I relate, for example, the tone in a violin to the rich tone and color in painting and try to remember the importance of the richness in color when I hear my favorite violinists: Isaac Perlman and Jascha Heifetz. I heard (Heifetz) here in New London - and went backstage and met him - when I was about 11 years old. Everything about his playing seemed to turn me on to the violin.
Q. What do you see as the common thread between your grandfather's, father's and your own painting, and what makes your painting style distinctive from theirs?
A. I think the common thread is the importance of drawing. That hasn't always been my forte and I'm always trying to improve it. Also, what was wonderful about being brought up in a family of painters is the importance of painting on location - finishing up in the studio, but not working from photographs.
The way our styles differ is that my father tended to be more Impressionistic than my grandfather. There's a fine line between Impressionism and Tonalism. My grandfather wanted to be known as a Tonalist. My (work) is a little more Impressionistic (than both of theirs). In Impressionism the tones are from the base to the treble, like in music, it's the whole scale. While Tonalism is in the middle of the scale, my paintings tend to be very much in the range from the base to the treble.
Q. You divide your time between Italy and Waterford. Do these two environments affect your painting differently?
A. Yes. I find the marshes, the beauty wonderful in Waterford. I love to paint the pampas grass that grows in the marshes - and also the marshes in Shelter Island - very much. These paintings are more Tonalist (than the Italian ones). I find the beach scenes so beautiful in Italy (the color and light), it's a challenge to do them justice, but why not try to put it on canvas and make a beautiful painting? I'm always trying to do that.
Q. What are the most important things you learned by studying and being mentored by prestigious painters both here and abroad in Italy? Did everyone bring something different to the table - or canvas as it were?
A. Absolutely. Other than my father and grandfather, when I went to Italy, I studied with Pietro Annigoni and that was a great experience in my life, to study with him and his assistant and Nerina Simi. Annigoni was very much a mentor and had a very high standard. To watch him paint, to see his process, his technique, was helpful. I think he is the greatest realist painter of our time. In this country I think Andrew Wyeth was the greatest realist painter of our time. They both wanted to meet each other and I brought them together. Annigoni came to this country many times - and painted around Waterford.
Q. What advice can you give a student who wants to pursue a career as a visual artist?
A. One thing, always look to have a sense of light in your pictures. Don't get so involved with the technique that you deaden the feeling of light. And understand the importance of drawing, which is the basis of everything in painting. Don't give in to working only from photographs. Develop your work from your observation of nature and the figure or portrait. If you fall into just what you think will sell, it will back kick, and end up not doing what you think. The audience doesn't know necessarily, and they shouldn't have to know, what makes the picture beautiful. But the artist's interpretation of nature - things like mystery, atmosphere, poetry, fine color, is what individuals see automatically, and that is what sells the picture. No matter the style of painting, it's very important. Working from nature helps you because it inspires these things.
What: "Inside My Studio" with Nelson H. White. White will discuss several of his works, the three generations of White artists, and his mentors.
Where: Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts of the University of New Haven, 84 Lyme St., Old Lyme.
When: Friday, Nov. 7. The evening begins at 6 p.m. with reception in Sill House Gallery before White's 7 p.m. presentation.
Cost: $10, seating is limited, reservations required.
Info: Contact Ann de Selding at (860) 434-3571, ext. 117, or firstname.lastname@example.org.