I Love White Paintings

White Rose, 40" x 40" Oil, by Ora Sorensen Using all the colors of the rainbow in balanced proportion reads to the viewer as white.

As an artist I do love color; so many options that I want to try them all. But, I also love white paintings. I like that they are non-confrontational, insightful and restful.

But having “white” as the “local color” does not necessarily mean a painting is devoid of any hue shifts, unless you are looking at Robert Rauschenberg’s “White Painting” [three panel], 1951. Indeed that piece consists of three panels of even, clear, white paint. But even though Rauschenberg’s “White Painting” was not created with any shifts in hue or value, the stark flat white on the canvas does reflect the changes in its environment through shifting light and shadows nearby.

And that brings us to the definition of white. It is not the absence of color but a combination of all colors in the visible spectrum in equal proportions. By subtly altering the balance of the colors already present in light, an artist can reveal a lively prism of hues in a way to delight the viewer. A white painting may still reflect all colors in order to read as white, and each color should be carefully weighed as too much of one color shifts a viewer’s perception of “white” to that of the overweighted color. When hue shifts are minimal or even nonexistent, interest can be added through texture, surface, substrate and strokes. For myself, I like to paint “white” by thinking of weaving an elusive rainbow across a canvas so all the colors harmonize as white.

“White I”, 40″ x 40″, Ora Sorensen
By highlighting the contrasting colors of violet and yellow to make vivid grays, the painting still reads as a white painting.

Some of the greats who created white paintings are:

“The White Calico Flower”, 1931 by Georgia O’Keeffe
“Surface Veil”, 1970-1971 by Robert Ryman
“Monochrome White Painting”, 1963 by Li Yuan-chia
“White on White”, 1918 by Kazimir Malevich
“White Flag”, 1955 by Jasper Johns
…and check out the numerous white paintings by Cy Twombly!

Ora Sorensen (orasorensen.com) was born in New York but grew up overseas in such countries as Libya, Turkey, Iran, Holland and Thailand. Her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.