Artist Daniel Levine - monochrome painter 1

White is a sensibility

Colour is a feeling. White is a sensibility. A singular path. Pure, minimalist and timeless. White is a lack of excess. It is cooling and quiet and evokes a feeling of calm. White feels like the air, changing constantly with unseeable intricacies at play. White is understated but at the same time a statement—a decision, a language and a direction. White, like no other colour, is a contradiction. White is everything and nothing. White is profound and spiritual.

There is nothing like watching a vast open white sky, constantly in motion and changing with the light. This is where it always begins for me, watching the sky.

Only recently have my observations and feelings towards white been reignited. This had a lot to do with the artist Daniel Levine who passed away in January 2022. He was and remains a huge inspiration to me. Levine was a monochrome painter who dedicated himself to the exploration of white variations for almost three decades. I hope in time that his work will receive a deeper investigation and appreciation and will be widely regarded as one of the masters of white.

Seeing one of his paintings in reality a few years ago really triggered something for me, beginning my then brief investigation to cloudy whites. It was his work that led me to these whites, and in particular to N.16, which was dedicated to him at the time.  N.16 is a cloudy white that is neither warm nor cool, it is delicate and soft with luminosity. It felt perfect to me. I thought there was nowhere to go after this white, which is why it’s taken me over two years to create another.

When Levine suddenly passed away, I came back to thinking about white and what it means to me; the intimacy and subtlety of his work resonated even more, and from here began a thought process that lasted for many months.

Artist Daniel Levine - monochrome painter 4
Daniel Levine

The perfect white

I believe in the beauty of subtlety and restraint which can give the illusion of effortlessness and simplicity. Although, in reality, there is nothing effortless about achieving a perfect white. The subtlety and nuance of tone is complex, and for me, this is where the beauty lies. There is so little pigment in a soft white—making them challenging to get right. But, when a white is right, it can feel otherworldly.

Like most of the colours in the collection, the whites begin as a thought process and study. A feeling of a tone sits in my mind for weeks or months until I know where I want to go with it.

During this reflection I started reading Kenya Hara’s poetic study on whites. These short poetic memories of an experience had no descriptions of colour beyond their titles:  Tofu. Rice. Snow. Paper. Linen. Wax. Pearl. The titles ignited feelings and a visual, but I still didn’t know what I wanted. I was no closer, so I paused.

Several weeks later, I planned to attend an exhibition of Yoona Hur, a Korean ceramic artist whose work I had been following for a few years. It was a truly beautiful exhibition, the moon cloud vessels were mesmerising.  Hur’s work has such depth and spiritual content to it, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it: the way the light hit the vessels in the gallery, to the tonalities, the shapes and proportions, all of it was deeply moving and inspirational.

The next day I knew exactly what I wanted and how to achieve it, and N.23 happened magically in the first attempt. N.23 sits between the neutrality of N.16 and the slight blue tone of N.2, being neither one or the other but right in the middle.

The following week I started working on N.24: slightly whiter than N.23 with a different tonality. I struggled a lot with this white, to find balance between not going too white so there was nothing to it, by giving it the slightest hint of tone. Too white is like too much light—blinding. It took several more weeks of study, reflection and watching what happened to the swatch as the light changed until I felt sure it was right. N.24: is a pure white with a mist rather than a cloudy white. It has the barest amount of tone, enough to soften the brightness but retaining the purity and crispness. N.24 is an homage to Daniel Levine.

Conversations on white

The feeling of colours can also be triggered by conversations. One such conversation was with my friend Visnja Brdar, a graphic designer and art director. She spoke about her father, a house painter who insisted on painting everyone’s house white. Whenever someone wanted something else, he talked them out of it. It made me smile and caused me to reflect upon my previous work as a make up artist and how I could almost always talk someone out of something that I didn’t believe in. I’m drawn to people that are committed to a point of view in an almost religious way and who dedicate themselves to their vision. You have to be uncompromising to a degree. You have to go all the way with your vision, but at the same time remain open to something else happening. It’s finding that delicate balance.

Matthew Feyld

Visnja Brdar on white

White. No other colour, and perhaps it is a no colour, has impacted me so deeply. I witnessed the power it held over my father who relentlessly painted white walls his entire life, convincing clients to shun all other colours. His obsessive loyalty and daily salutation to white was a manifestation of his love of purity and clarity and honesty. He embodied white. His elevated spirit and eternal optimism were magnetic. He wore white ironed shirts adorned with a tie, underneath his paint splattered overalls.

His focus was contagious. In my graphic art practice – white with its subtle shades plays a critical role. It reassures, consoles, unburdens and liberates. It is space. It is luminous and light. It is vast and seductive and sculptural. It fortifies. White is an elegance, a meditation. White is un-stimulating, in a good way. Silent and calm and gentle. Stripped and unfussy but brutal, blunt, direct and difficult at times. White is complex and endlessly satisfying.

I too, like my father, fight for white. I want white to win and prevail – and with its presence in my work – to victoriously celebrate freedom, the expansive and the inexplicable, like the mystery of clouds and fresh snow and milk and fog and sheep. White is ancient and austere, like my father’s village in Croatia. For me, white is transporting. Essential. As necessary as air. White carries the promise of the new and what is yet to come. White is eternal.

In memory of artist Daniel Levine, 1959–2022.