Saturday, November 3, 2012

Self-Taught Southern Artist Willie White (1908-2000)

William “Willie” White (1908-2000) was born on February 25, 1908, near Cranfield, Adams County, Mississippi, about 12 miles east of Natchez. His parents were sharecroppers.

He attended school through 3rd grade; and in 1929, he left home to work on "quarter boats" on the Mississippi River, repairing & securing the river levee. He also worked on riverboats as a porter.

He finally settled in New Orleans, where he initially worked as a waiter & barber.

White was employed as a janitor & as a sign painter during the 1950s & 1960s.

He acquired an interest in painting after observing artists in the French Quarter in the early 1950s.

Using housepaint, he at first imitated their work but quickly developed his own ideas & techniques.

In the late 1960s, one of these artists befriended him, encouraging his artistic efforts & offering to teach him how to paint.

White accepted the encouragement but rejected the guidance, preferring his own vision.

He worked with obsessive fervor in producing stacks of intuitively perfect compositions.

The composition of his drawings are like mosaics with geometric shapes combining into a brilliant whole.

Willie White decided to decorate his front porch on Dryades Street in New Orleans, with colorful drawings. Neighbors & strangers began to buy his works.

Despite being a quiet man, he could respond as boldly & confidently as his drawings, as he sold his work from his house.

In the early 1960s, he began to work almost exclusively with felt markers & white poster board & used canvas only when it was provided. Willie White drew a variety of subjects, often on the same piece.

With simple shapes & bold colors drawn in bright markers on posterboard, he painted a variety of subjects throughout his lifetime: prehistoric creatures, strange animals, horses, & birds; rocketships, the earth, moon, & stars; skyscrapers, churches & houses; and bright watermelons, trees, & cacti.