DE­SIGN LONNEY WHITE

Dark ma­te­ri­als

Neue Luxury - - News - By Mariam Ar­cilla

It was dur­ing his high school years in Mon­tana that Lonney White be­came “con­fused by the trendi­ness of colour” and shunned the pal­ette en­tirely from his sar­to­rial iden­tity. He was in­stead so­laced by the time­less al­lure of mono­chrome, with the stylis­tic code since creep­ing into his aes­thetic as a neo-min­i­mal­ist pain­ter, sculp­tor and fur­ni­ture de­signer.

“Ev­ery­thing I do in my art and in my life is monochro­matic,” the artist re­veals over the phone from Chicago—where he is now based. “I feel that the art­work I make, the clothes I wear, and the fur­ni­ture and ob­jects in my home, should all speak the same lan­guage; they should all agree with one an­other. Mono­chrome al­lows for that.”

Guided by an in­tu­itive cur­rent, White uses the tech­niques of mould­ing, fus­ing and spilling to trans­form metal, bronze, steel, con­crete and wax into pieces that bring to mind ex­trater­res­trial sur­faces and flat­tened ex­oskele­tons.

Dur­ing the sculpt­ing and pour­ing process, the artist of­ten wel­comes the “er­ratic be­hav­iours” car­ried by these mer­cu­rial el­e­ments, and chooses to ex­pose, in­stead of smooth over, the in­den­ta­tions, holes and other sur­prises that may sur­face.

“It’s more en­joy­able for me when I’m not at odds with my ma­te­ri­als,” he ex­plains. “At first, I have a ges­ture of what might hap­pen with my work ... but some­times the bronze may not cast per­fectly, or the metal will move in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to what I an­tic­i­pated. I learnt early on not to over-fi­nesse things, or to fight with ma­te­ri­als and force them to be per­fect. I’m more in­ter­ested in em­brac­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of these ma­te­ri­als, and leav­ing no room for em­bel­lish­ment or ar­ti­fice.”

“My ma­te­ri­als are sourced from all sorts of places,” White says of his Franken­stein as­sem­blage. For his bronze fab­ri­ca­tions he uses a lo­cal foundry called West Sup­ply, while a dif­fer­ent sup­plier pro­vides the metal al­loys for his paint­ings, and an­other for his steel. This year he vis­ited a sheep farm out­side of Chicago to source wool for his wet-felt­ing.

While he de­scribes his works as “sub­dued and non-rep­re­sen­ta­tional”, with prim­i­tive ti­tles de­void of fan­fare, he en­joys hear­ing the Rorschachian thoughts of­fered by view­ers. “Some­one re­cently told me my paint­ings looked like sea lily fos­sils,” which he says is plau­si­ble, given the works re­sem­ble relics “once alive” due to an an­i­mated molten process.

White stud­ied paint­ing and sculp­ture at the Univer­sity of Mon­tana, and at one time sold his car so that he could af­ford to ex­per­i­ment with bronze (he ended up cre­at­ing a desk en­tirely from the ma­te­rial). In 2008, he re­lo­cated to Chicago to ex­pand his in­ter­est in in­te­rior ar­chi­tec­ture and fur­ni­ture de­sign at the School of the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago. He ex­per­i­mented on pieces of var­i­ous com­po­si­tions and scales, from or­na­men­tal bronze- casted spill- offs, to metal-swat­ted milky wax paint­ings span­ning a 20-foot sculp­ture caked in steel and con­crete. This os­cil­la­tion be­tween dis­ci­plines is a re­sponse, he says, “to this con­tem­po­rary mo­ment where peo­ple are hun­gry for art­work that tra­verses vo­ca­tional bound­aries.”

White counts Mon­tana-based fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories de­signer Ty Best, who he trained un­der, early in his ca­reer, as a huge in­flu­ence on his own work. “I’m in­spired by Ty’s un­com­pro­mis­ing at­ti­tude to­wards his prac­tice” White says. “Step­ping into his stu­dio is like be­ing in a dif­fer­ent world; his vi­sion is so sin­gu­lar and ev­ery­thing fol­lows suit. Ty’s aes­thetic is in­spired by the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment of Mon­tana, but it’s also a stark and dra­matic break from the cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment there.”

Work is steady for White, with paint­ing com­mis­sions fun­nelled through his rep­re­sen­ta­tive gal­leries Holly Hunt and Lmd/stu­dio. It of­ten starts with a dia­logue be­tween the artist and the clients about de­sired pa­ram­e­ters and pal­ettes, and White tends to pull out ex­am­ples of his pre­vi­ous de­signs to get a feel for the clients tastes and vi­sion. He then trans­forms this feed­back into ini­tial sketches on paper.

“But I’ll never show a client my sketch,” he di­vulges. “I’ve had prob­lems in the past where I present clients with a draw­ing and they fall in love with it, but then I re­alise I am not able to ex­e­cute the sketch! So now I keep my sketches in­ten­tion­ally vague to al­low room for spon­tane­ity.”

White coun­ters that while com­mer­cial work pro­vides him with the sus­tain­abil­ity to pur­sue the trial-driven as­pects of his prac­tice, he is now, at 33, look­ing to ded­i­cate the next phase of his ca­reer to­wards cre­at­ing more monas­tic and chal­leng­ing pieces. This year, he tack­led his most com­plex cre­ation yet: a 10foot-wide EXO Sofa of bronze ex­oskele­ton, leather, wool, ebonised ply­wood and pati­nated steel.

He ex­plains the process: “I start by mould­ing the ini­tial or­ganic shape for the sofa from a wet-felt­ing method— this in­volves lay­ing the raw wool out on a bam­boo screen and plac­ing dish soap over the wool, which af­fects the fi­bre’s PH bal­ance. Then I roll up the wool and ap­ply boil­ing water.” From there, the artist works the screen by hand un­til fi­bres start felt­ing and fus­ing to­gether, sculpt­ing the wool free-form, re­sult­ing in nat­u­ral holes. A wax is then built around the forms and then fi­nally cast in bronze. The EXO Sofa was show- cased in The Col­lec­tive De­sign Fair in New York in spring 2015, along­side artists Phoebe Knapp, Parts of Four and the dark lord of fash­ion and de­sign, Rick Owens. “Be­cause we shared a sim­i­lar stylis­tic dia­logue,” says White, “our works were cu­rated to­gether into one space in a way that en­abled the works to feed from one an­other.”

White cur­rently works from a the stu­dio in the 8,000 square-foot prop­erty that he and his part­ner, de­signer and in­te­rior ar­chi­tect Lukas Mach­nik, bought two years ago. Sit­u­ated in the in­dus­trial cor­ri­dor of South Chicago, the build­ing, for­merly a glass fac­tory in the late 1800s, has since been con­verted by the cou­ple into a multi-func­tional habi­tat con­sist­ing of a stu­dio, gallery/show­room, of­fice space and liv­ing quar­ters.

“The down­side to a home stu­dio,” he re­flects, “is that the work hours tend to get blurred, so it’s hard to set bound­aries. I need to get bet­ter at leav­ing work. On the plus side, if I come up with an idea at 1:00am, I can em­brace that spon­tane­ity and cre­ate while it feels fresh.”

White ‘walks’ me through the premises via phone: Pep­pered around their space are art­works by White and other Lmd/stu­dio artists. As usual, the in­te­rior ar­chi­tec­ture is aligned with the artist’s min­i­mal­is­tic thumbprint, “in terms of craft­ing an aes­thetic en­vi­ron­ment or ex­pe­ri­ence for my­self, it’s im­por­tant that there’s lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the el­e­ments at play”.

When I con­fide to White that my sen­si­bil­i­ties are in­deed the op­po­site, in that prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing in my house is colour- clashed and loud, he rea­sons that this can still emit a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. “You see colours in the same way I see my monochro­matic life: in the end the land­scape blurs to­gether. If there was one colour in our liv­ing space right now, it would stand out, it would be the only thing you would look at. Hav­ing an in­te­rior en­vi­ron­ment that is neu­tral al­lows for na­ture and the out­doors to come in, and it adds to that med­i­ta­tive state for me. Whereas you have colours ev­ery­where around you, but they blur to­gether in the same way. This can be your kind of calm.”

Our con­ver­sa­tion prompts White to re­veal that, as a pas­sion project, he and Mach­nik re­cently de­signed White’s fa­ther’s Mon­tana home in their sig­na­ture min­i­mal­ist look. A cu­ra­to­rial hic­cup arose when White’s fa­ther re­filled his home con­tents post-ren­o­va­tion. “It was only af­ter we fin­ished lay­ing this muted pal­ette that we re­alised that my fa­ther’s wardrobe—which was full of bright, colour­ful clothes— to­tally clashed with the home,” he laughs. “So he had to re- eval­u­ate things, and can you be­lieve he ended up trans­lat­ing his wardrobe to match the house!”

Look­ing back fondly, he adds, “since then, my fa­ther has em­braced the change in his home and in his en­vi­ron­ment. De­sign has en­riched his life, and now when we travel he wants to learn more about the fur­ni­ture in the ho­tel rooms. He wants to know whether the chair he’s sit­ting in is a Hans Weg­ner.”

White re­counts that while his par­ents were not cre­atively in­clined (his mother worked as a nurse while his fa­ther “was a land man who sold and bought gas and min­eral rights”), they were nev­er­the­less sup­port­ive of his ven­ture into the arts. He cred­its his grand­mother for nur­tur­ing his cre­ative inklings. “My grand­mother and I were very close. She never re­ally had a job but she would vol­un­teer at the lo­cal theatre and was con­stantly draw­ing and paint­ing. She en­cour­aged me to be an artist.”

Back then, a younger White found Mon­tana to be a highly con­ser­va­tive place. “I wasn’t sure if it had some­thing to do with my sex­u­al­ity, but it didn’t mat­ter, be­cause I knew I was gay in the same way I knew I wanted to be an artist.” In con­trast, White finds his present base in Chicago to be an “in­tel­lec­tual city with a strong com­mu­nity of artists, de­sign­ers and cre­ators” bol­stered by a plethora of pub­lic art, in­clud­ing the iconic Pi­casso sculp­ture and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, “which com­ple­ments and re­flects the mon­u­men­tal ar­chi­tec­ture of the Chicago sky­line”.

When our con­ver­sa­tion lands on the topic of on­line pres­ence, White re­veals that a home owner in Hong Kong re­cently found a pic­ture of his art on Pin­ter­est, lead­ing to White pro­duc­ing a com­mis­sioned piece for his beach house. That said, even though images of his work float around the In­ter­net, the softly spo­ken artist ad­mits he would much rather be con­cealed from the minu­tiae of it all. “I’m not the type of per­son­al­ity that needs to be on­line, so this idea of ex­pos­ing my­self on that scale gives me a height­ened level of anx­i­ety. Also, I feel like if I gave voice to my work, that it would some­how tar­nish it.”

I re­lay to him a favourite quote of mine, by Amer­i­can in­dus­tri­al­ist Henry J. Kaiser: “When your work speaks for it­self, don’t in­ter­rupt”. White chirps, “I com­pletely agree. I ex­ist on­line through Lukas when he up­loads images of my work. But for the most part, I would be com­pletely happy to be in­vis­i­ble from my work. I want to have my­self vir­tu­ally dis­so­ci­ated from my art so that it is able to stand on its own. That is what com­forts me.”

Photo by Jack Sch­nei­der. Courtesy of Lmd/stu­dios.

Photo by Jack Sch­nei­der. Courtesy of Lmd/stu­dios. Photo by Jack Sch­nei­der. Courtesy of Lmd/stu­dios.

Photo by Jack Sch­nei­der. Courtesy of Lmd/stu­dios.

Photo by Jack Sch­nei­der. Courtesy of Lmd/stu­dios.

We can’t rely on any­one but our­selves to de­fine our ex­is­tence, to shape the im­age of our­selves.

The ex­am­ined life is no pic­nic.

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