A product of Southern California beaches, skateboarding and punk rock, Todd Ryan White moved to New Mexico to practice “Desert Solitaire.”
Literally the title of his latest solo exhibition at Santa Fe’s Hecho Gallery, White once taught graphic design at Boston’s Museum School of Fine Arts.
Spare renderings of floating plants, insects and animals, these watercolors represent an extreme post-COVID shift from excess to simplicity. Now living in Eldorado outside of Santa Fe, White explores the landscapes and animals surrounding his home, often juxtaposing them with geometric abstract forms in a dream-like vision.
These aren’t the warm-and-fuzzy critters of Beatrix Potter fame. White instead focuses his gaze on snakes and moths, as well as cacti and dandelions.
“I felt like the moth kept coming back as a symbol of transformation,” White said in a telephone interview. “The butterfly is the transformation of the day; the moth is the transformation of the night. I felt like I was turning the moth into a butterfly.
“I failed at a rabbit,” he added. “It really wasn’t good enough.”
The detail is reminiscent of botanical prints. The landscapes sprang from photographs White took at Ghost Ranch.
His mother was an art school student who dropped out when she gave birth to him. But she gave her son private lessons beginning in the fourth grade.
White cites influences ranging from the late Arroyo Hondo artist Ken Price, known for his abstract clay figures and prints, botanical illustration and, of course, Georgia O’Keeffe.
“I’ve been to Ghost Ranch multiple times,” he said.
His last extensive show took place at Santa Fe’s Form & Concept in 2019.
Those pieces were large – one spanned 10-by-15-feet – and dense with detail, lines and historical references. He spent up to five years working on them, then COVID hit.
The pandemic allowed him to slow down and reflect.
“My artwork has always been volatile; always trying to say a lot about culture and violence,” he said.
As he began his new work, he suspended the cacti and weeds in space, but he didn’t like the look, so he gave them geometric containers.
“It was like an abduction, like an alien pulling the plant from the ground,” he said.
White taught at the old College of Santa Fe beginning in 2010. He and his wife own Good Folk, a folk art gallery in Santa Fe. In 2020, the New Mexico Museum of Art featured his work in its Alcove Gallery.
White also plays drums and sings with the band Heretical Sect.
“We wear masks, we wear hoods,” he said, “so people don’t know who we are. It’s like performance art.”
“No matter what I do, I always come back to” art, he said. “I feel like there’s always room for growth. I feel like I can be in touch with myself and the world around me. It’s kind of a spiritual practice.”
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