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Nelson White

Q&A with artist and illustrator Nelson White

special feature: Indigenization

Part of a special feature chronicling the transformation of the academy through the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials at Memorial.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of the Newfoundland Quarterly. Republished with permission.

When and where were you born? Way back in 1966 in Flat Bay, Newfoundland. My parents still live there.

Nelson White is pictured in front of part of his exhibition currently showing at The Rooms in St. John's.
Nelson White is pictured at his exhibition currently showing at The Rooms in St. John’s.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

When and where did you study? Art school was the Bay St. George Community College in Stephenville, and afterwards the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

How would you describe your style of work? I am a representational painter whose subject matter tends to be Indigenous (as it’s who I am). My work is about displaying natives in a modern setting, telling stories of who we are now.

What type of media do you favour, and why? I am currently working in oils. They are smoother and transition better. This is a newer medium for me … I had been using acrylics because of drying time as I tend to work fast, but like the results with oils better.

Gordon at the Table, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40, 2017
Gordon at the Table, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40, 2017
Photo: Nelson White

Do you have a work routine? I always try to have something in progress and work at some point every day. Even if it is [just] making a few lines if I can’t get a number of hours in. I equate it to going to the gym, you feel better if you did something that day.

What influences your work – not just visual artists but books, music, something else? The biggest influence on my work is where I am from. The subject matter tends to be family, friends, and faces I find interesting. But I do read a lot (from art books to thrillers) and watch a lot of movies, especially old noir or gangster movies (TCM [Turner Classic Movies] is almost always on in my studio).

Which visual artists would you like to see get more attention? Sid Butt – he’s a great influence and I think he goes unmentioned many times when we talk about great Newfoundland painters.

Papa Gus with a Mi’Kmaq Blanket, oil on canvas, 24 x 24, 2018
Papa Gus with a Mi’Kmaq Blanket, oil on canvas, 24 x 24, 2018
Photo: Nelson White

What’s your next goal/project? Starting in September I will be the first Indigenous artist-in-residence at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, in conjunction with Eastern Edge Gallery. I will be doing a number of paintings that will be shown later in the fall. Editor’s note: Mr. White’s exhibition is ongoing until June 2, 2019.

Is there something you’d like to be asked about, that I missed? No … I don’t think so … apart from I have bulldog named Higgins who people ask about more than they ask about me.

To see more of Mr. White’s artwork, please visit his website.

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