Painters paint what they know, love, and understand, which for many means the infinite sources of inspiration found in nature. Deeply moved by his life experiences “running amok” in the rural Midwest, this artist has found his own creative way to answer the call of the wild.
They called it “Trout (Art) on Tap” — a fun showcase of a few local artists’ take on trout fishing at Minneapolis’ Indeed Brewing Company on March 2. Surrounded by these unique creative voices and enjoying the tasteful libations of the show’s host, one artist stood out. For me, it was the captivating color and skillful rendering of light’s reflection and refraction in water that set Bob White’s pictures apart. There was a truthfulness, familiarity, and simplicity to White’s landscapes that urged me to look more closely and discover the man behind them, if not plan my own next hiking or camping trip.
“I believe a painter should paint what he knows, loves, and understands” White says. “I grew up deeply influenced by my outdoor experiences — hunting, trapping, fishing, and generally running amok in the marshes, fields, and woodlots that surround my rural, Midwestern childhood home.”
From an early age, White idolized those guided by and immersed within the outdoors, such as the canonical characters Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. Art, it seems, was his other passion, and the two seemed destined to collide — at least, at some point. “I studied art in high school and college,” he says, “but back in the ’70s there was very little support for representational work. So I painted on my own and studied art history to gain a historical perspective on the work I preferred.
“With little or no hopes of supporting myself in the arts, I graduated with a degree in counseling and worked as a therapist with troubled adolescents and their families. After three years, I was burned out, and found a job as a fishing guide in Alaska. I began to paint the life I was living, and found support for the images I created. In due course, I could support myself by guiding fly fishermen in Alaska during the summer, in Argentina during the winter, and painting in between. Eventually, my artwork began to play a bigger part in my life. Now, I find myself painting and writing full-time.”
Fast forward to today, and White has found himself featured in numerous sporting publications, including Fly Rod & Reel magazine, Ducks Unlimited magazine, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Shooting Sportsman, and a myriad of other national and international publications. How do his popular pictures begin? For White, the creative process starts rather simply: with drawing. “Whether I’m working from field notes and sketches, photographs, or in plein air, I generally have a vision of the finished painting or drawing in my mind before I begin,” he says. “This vision dictates my choice of medium; oil, watercolor, or pencil. I consider my drawing the foundation of every image I create and devote a lot of time to developing the composition and preliminary drawing so that once my colors are mixed, I am free to concentrate fully upon the process of painting.”
Once paint enters the equation, White relies on his experience as a father (and his formal artistic training, of course) to help realize the scene. “I believe that creating a painting is a parallel experience to raising a child,” he says. “They are both conceived in passion and guided to maturity through struggle and patience. Like children, every painting is different. Some require stern and constant attention … others practically raise themselves, and the best we can do is stay out of the way. In the end, the dilemma is also the same: When do we step aside and let them stand on their own?” The answer is never simple, but White appears to have found at least as much success in guiding paintings as guiding fly fishermen.
Like the sublime works of the Hudson River School or Winslow Homer’s captured fleeting moments, White aims to create images that elicit nostalgia and emotion from his viewers. “I know that a painting is successful when viewing it elicits sensory responses beyond just the visual,” he says. “When someone viewing my work feels the coolness of a shadow and the warmth of the sun, when one hears wind in the trees, or the sound of water as it tumbles over a streambed, smells and tastes sun-warmed pines or a heavy morning fog … when someone viewing my work says, ‘I’ve been there,’ then I know I’ve gotten it right.”
The collectors, publications, and galleries that continue to come calling strongly suggest White gets it right often, and it will be exciting to see how his art continues to evolve in the future. “At nearly 60 years of age, I should think of retirement,” White admits. “Though if I were ever able to retire, I’d probably do exactly what I am now. I look forward to a lot of sporting travel and recording those experiences on canvas and paper to share with others.”
Bob lives in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota with his wife, Lisa, children Jakob, Jamie, and Tommy, and their dog Frisbee.
To learn more, visit Bob White.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.