LoLa co-founder Anita White: Artistic inspiration and process

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In anticipation of LoLa, the Longfellow art crawl happening this weekend, we took some time to talk with local artist Anita White. White founded LoLa with Bob Schmitt in 2009, and is an artist, poet, and teacher. During LoLa, her work will be on display at her studio, Amaranth Art located at 4524 Minnehaha Ave. S.

MB: When did you first begin your work as an artist?

White: I grew up in an artistic household. My father James was a poet and writer. My mother Emily was a painter and a psychologist. From a very early age, I was encouraged to create and write.

My formative work as an artist was shaped by my family and by a summer I spent in Maine in 1971 when I was 19. That summer, my job as a nanny gave me my days free to paint and draw by the ocean. I pursued the beauty I found around me and did a series of meaningful paintings. This early work informed the same themes I still work with daily.

MB: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

White: For me, it is always an integration of my inner life with what I perceive around me in people and places.

Drawing as a way of life

I am glad to say that I draw every day: Lola meetings, moments of beauty at Longfellow Garden, or at Minnehaha Falls. Wherever I am, you will find me with my Japanese brush pen and my sketchbook drawing away. I also carry watercolors with me, and if I can, I like to spontaneously paint in the moment. (Though not while driving!)

Longfellow Garden Beauty, by Anita White.

Documentary drawing

My need and tendency to draw every day in every way served me well as I moved through the care giving of my parents. As they aged and their cares increased, I continued to draw and document their life.

I also found drawing to be a helpful and provocative tool after their passing. It was a way to help me process my grief and draw my way through the challenges that followed. As I always say, “nothing is so scary that you can’t draw it.” I have used drawing to navigate the moment, chart the facts, and find some kind of solace in the face of difficulties.

The Expectation of Goodness, a work done by White of her mother in the last six months of her life. White said that these paintings were “a way of honoring and hanging on to [her parents]. I knew they were not long for this life and it was a way to chronicle the rich personalities that they were.”

Travel paintings

A lucky raffle ticket win in 1992 allowed me to visit the land of my dreams – Mexico. I visited museums, villages, and spent time in the markets in Mexico City and Oaxaca. I did my usual daily sketching and painting, and I also took a lot of photographs. When I returned home, the trip blossomed internally for me. Working from the photos, I was inspired to paint on handmade Thai Unryo paper, and the photographs provided enough material to last for over 14 years.

Other inspiration

I like to draw people and try to capture the essence of their being. I also find a lot of inspiration in nature. I love to draw my garden. I grow the stately amaranth plant, which is majestic with its red plumes. True confession – I am not very good at weeding my garden, but love to paint the tangled vines and tall amaranth.

From left, White’s vine hut; her painting of the vine hut. She uses the hut for the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth in the fall, but also spends time out there just drawing.

MB: What does your artistic process look like?

White: A lot of my artistic process depends on where I am and my inner reflections on that moment. At times my work is very spontaneous. Other times it is carefully thought through on a deeper level, particularly the more narrative pieces or the large paintings that I do.

For my silk painting, I have a three-season porch where I set up my silk paints and stretchers. I do a lot of work there, but I also work a lot outside.

For my gouache travel paintings, I have a system of enlarging my photos using a plastic grid over the image that is then reproduced on the paper I am going to paint. I make a grid on the paper by using strings. I transfer by hand the image from one grid to another. Then I paint from the photograph, allowing imagination to fill in memory and subjective images in addition to the image in front of me.

MB: Your work is vibrant with colors of summer. How do you get through the cold, white winters?

White: Ha ha!! That is a good question. I am definitely not a winter painter. I work from images from my sunny, colorful trips to places like Mexico. I also go to the Conservatory to paint as often as I can. It is a wonderful refuge in the winter! Winter is a time of introversion and painting flower bouquets. In some ways, I like the enforced solitude of that time of year. It can be good for my work I say…until I yearn for other places and spring!

MB: How have your life experiences affected your art?

White: Since I grew up in a house of big talkers and storytellers it is natural for me to tell life stories that use image and writing. Now that I am older, I have a lot to “draw” on (forgive the pun). I love looking back over the adventures I had in my early twenties and am currently working on a series of graphic novels about these life experiences.

I am also working on puppet shows. These small vignettes drawn with my Japanese brush pen are autobiographical and humorous adventures based on life’s unpredictable experiences.

MB: You co-founded Lola with painter Bob Schmitt, how do you think Lola has changed the artist community in Longfellow?

White: It has been a joy to work with such a talented and amazing person as Bob Schmitt. He is truly a gifted person with graphics and a pragmatic person as far as developing Lola’s growth.

My great joy is to see how the artists in Lola form new relationships with each other. I just saw Tim Granlund who runs Prairie Woodworking. Duane Boom has been showing with him for Lola for two years now and they also do a lot of other projects. It is that kind of artistic partnering that makes me proud of Lola and what it has to offer the artists for each other and for the enhancement of the community.

Before Lola, many artists were working on their own with the outlets they forged for marketing. Lola markets the “artistic treasures” of our neighborhood to the world, and within the Lola artist community new relationships are formed.

Layers of Grief, by Anita White. Her caregiving drawings have been in two shows – at the Wilder Foundation this spring and the St. Paul Jewish Community Center this summer.

MB: What projects are you working on now?

White: I have been writing up my poems, printing them out, and putting them in small hand size booklets. These poems are a continuation of my grief process of the loss of my parents and family home.

I am also self-publishing, in a small humble way, Volume 2 of my dad’s quips and quotes in Amaranth Review; anecdotes that I wrote down over the time my husband and I cared for him while he had dementia. He remained the witty, wise person he always was, and I wrote everything he said down on a scrap of paper or in a small booklet.

Now that the garden is reaching it’s fullness, I enjoy doing larger pen/ink and gouache paintings of the vines and foliage. At this time of year, I also like to go up to the Longfellow Garden to paint the beautiful flowers when I can. In preparation for Lola, I am finishing off silk paintings and mounting some linoleum block prints of plants.

White in her vine hut.

MB: Any other comments?

White: Lola is a great joy in my life. I feel so enriched to be a part of this community and to have found such great artists and people to interact with in this neighborhood. It is a continuing blessing in my life!

Attend LoLa

LoLa is the annual art crawl in Longfellow, organized by the League of Longfellow Artists. It will run this Saturday and Sunday (8/24-25) from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. This year there are more than 150 artists participating and 89 sites. See the complete map at www.lolaartcrawl.com.

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