Art & Artists by John Coyle Steinbrunner

July 21st, 2010

This past Saturday I found myself at the Dock 6 open studio. Loosely a collective, as in six carpenters share a vast space, some equipment and occasional hijinks, the place was a wonderland of woodwork. From Doug Thome’s sleek side tables to the spec bicycle made of polished walnut by Seth Deysach, Dock 6 was a pleasant surprise of a Saturday afternoon.

But the design circuit isn’t something I’m well-versed in. Fortunately the spray booths had been commandeered for artwork by Jeffrey Forsythe, Russ White and others. I didn’t have a chance to talk to Jeffrey, though I hope to rectify that soon. Russ and I talked for a bit about his newest series, Middlescapes, of which “Enoch” was on view.

For the past four years, White has been Dumpster-diving for pallets, his medium of choice. Cut up, sanded down and re-arranged in strips and blocks, the resulting pieces are densely textured, dimensional wall hangings. One part quilting bee, a jigger of D.I.Y. aesthetic and a hefty dash of Sean Scully, White’s objective is to create “empathetic objects” that speak through their age and patina as much as composition.

Middlescapes, specifically, is based on aerial photography of the fly-over states. The use of chipped, splintered wood to revisit the memory of a plane trip lent a certain narrative to the piece. Though handy, the work stands on its own without the back story – they have enough gravitas to forego a reason for being. I am really taken with the sense of magnification he develops with the offset squares of blocks. It feels like a sly comment on the ubiquity of Google Earth and pixels.

I’m always fascinated by how we as artists create a sense of “presence” in a painting or wall piece. I think White gets that; he wants to make work you fall into, yet presents challenges. The more time I spent with “Enoch,” the more avenues I found to explore – in my personal history, working back to maps and aerial photography, thinking presently of wood and environment (though he insists the work takes no stand on “Green”-ness, nor should it). White’s pieces let you crawl around them like a jungle gym – or a kid at a construction site – and, like that kind of play, you can’t but come away satisfied … and looking forward to more.

-John Coyle Steinbrunner

J.C. is a painter in Chicago. He also founded and hosts The Salon Series to bring audiences and creatives together over dinner for an evening of discussion. He prefers Mexican lagers, Gibson guitars and the window seat. More about his art and work can be found at

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