Black Friday has been and gone this year, but its memory lives on in Anthony White’s new solo exhibition in London, his first in the UK. His intricate collage-like ‘paintings’ are created from threads of coloured PLA plastic – often found in throwaway consumer goods and luxury products alike – which are heated, melted and used to fill in his erratic still life compositions.
“The work is both very time and labour intensive. I often forget the exact hours I spend on each piece after they exceed 100, but I enjoy the process, and I do think it is important to slow down, and really highlight and explain each part within each work through the time I spend on it,” he tells CR. “Each piece has a basic contour drawing done first, for technical reasons, but a lot of the line direction and colour and figurative elements are intuitive – they have to be.”
White’s influences are sporadic and many: “Grocery stores, toy stores, the Dutch Golden Age, people’s expressions in their personal spaces, MySpace, Instagram feeds, arcades, and the internet.” Born in the same year as the dot-com bubble emerged, White finds his work and creative practice to be significantly shaped by the internet and the contributions individuals have made to it, he tells us.
“There’s a sense of control that is initiated by groups of people that can mould and deem what others see and determine important,” he says of the internet age. “We control the circulation of relevance and hype through popular vote, and those ‘things’ and ideas come out in my work often.” Yet the way White includes these cultural cues is a far cry from the fast-moving consumerist world they came from, such as his use of common plastics in his lengthy creative process, or how fleeting trends or scandals are immortalised in his work – like Gucci’s widely scorned ‘blackface jumper’ from earlier this year.
Each creation is crammed with references to pop culture and the hallmarks of everyday life, no matter the socioeconomic class. Household items are scattered around Versace and Balenciaga pieces. Diamonds and wads of cash sit alongside power tools and hot sauce. What underpins his work, though, is the use of cultural symbols that are somehow recognisable to us all.
“They often reference a specific person or place, or time that I have immediately experienced. Some works are direct observations of my childhood and all of the things that surrounded and influenced my upbringing. Some of the objects range and vary between the childhood homes I was raised in,” White explains. His work also bears references to where he’s more likely to find himself nowadays, whether a friend’s house, a bar, or a nightclub. Though they’re inherently personal, his pieces speak to the masses.
“All of the objects and devices have a reference to something commonly relatable, but I don’t expect anyone to pinpoint that because I consciously try to also make them relatable on a larger worldly scale,” he says. “The figurative works identify a time through recognisable ‘digital gestures and icons’ or stickers and tags from an era.”
“We are moving faster and faster in time, and the accumulation of stuff in the work is evidence of that. Sometimes the elements in the work seem nostalgic in a faraway sense, but often they identify a rather recent time,” White says. These nods could be anything from a Campbell’s Soup can, most closely tied to Warhol’s 60s pop art, to movies, band and brands from the last decade or two.
White says he’s “interested and intrigued” by the notion of overconsumption – it’s perhaps why his work isn’t overtly critical, but pokes a stick at these questions. “It makes me think, and that leads to investigation and research and then I am able to regurgitate all of that information and concern in the work. For me, art is one of the most important outlets for expressing any concern,” he says.
“Of course, I think some physical actions and writing, and other creative and communicative outlets to express concern have their own weight,” he adds. “But throughout history, art has been used to define time, social and political concerns, and everything else, which has often been kept for others to dissect. I think all modes of expression are powerful in their own way. I just happen to do it through art.”