Sophie White paints the town


By Wickham Boyle

But the depth of her vision and technique can only be appreciated when you face her mostly tiny canvases that chronicle her 22-year-love affair with the grit of New York City. “ I paint from memory or from observation, but what I am always attempting to portray is the real way New York City is. It is changing so fast; in a way it is becoming like a theme park and I am trying to show what I see as the essence of this city.”

Sophie White is a petite woman with fringy hair and lively body language; she stops in mid-sentence to apologize for being inarticulate. In fact she is one of the most articulate artists I have ever interviewed and her work radiates focus and precision.

Her paintings veer from near photo-realism, where each window and smoke stack is clearly rendered to what she calls “memory work,” in which White allows herself to be “loose.” This looseness creates combinations of images where a snowy day overlaps sun and then morphs into night. Or where she takes the hard wrought frame created by a window and fills it with an amorphous landscape.

“ I paint in a lot of different styles, but what unites my work is an obsession with New York and trying to show its reality.”

White grew up on Chambers Street where her parents are both artists. She attended P.S. 234, East Side Middle School and LaGuardia High School before matriculating from Cooper Union, so this Downtown artist was wholly educated in New York’s public schools. White has recently moved to Brooklyn just off Atlantic Avenue but she is keeping her studio in her old bedroom on Chambers Street.

Aside from her incredible painterly technique, there is also an energy that runs through White’s painting, evinced by the fact that she often paints what she sees on the scraps she finds around her. She paints on Styrofoam and on slices of oak or plywood scavenged form city construction sites, which oftentimes means that the picture has a slice cut off or seems to have been found rather than created. Which is similar to the way White sees herself: She believes she always had a real calling to be an artist. “ Since I was in pre-school I wanted to paint. I would go to galleries as a kid and think to myself, ‘I am going to be better than that’ but my parents also cautioned me that even if you are good, you might not be able to support yourself on your art alone. I am aware of that possibility. My mom is a teacher and my father a contractor, and so what else I will do is still a question.”

Right now White, who also does print making and tiny sculptures about New York (“I don’t think these are as buyable as my paintings,” she says), works in a cookie factory. But it’s a safe bet that once her work is seen on a level wider that the small gallery show that just closed in a friend’s loft in Chelsea, she may become known as the Hopper of her generation, a woman who sees the city with its grit and imperfections and loves it just that way.