In the entry of Martha Otero Gallery in West Hollywood is an impressively large oil painting depicting three giant screens showing epic films with scores of theater seats facing in five directions. This massive undertaking is the work of painter Eric White, who committed himself to months of labor and weeks of sleepless nights to get ready for his new show, “All of This Has Not Occurred.”
The exhibit— which spans three rooms—features White’s personal vision of his own museum retrospective, with paintings that have been replicated in China at 1/3 scale of his original. The center room offers a glimpse into White’s obsession with scale, scope and detail, with the painting that he conceived as interpretations of John Martin’s apocalyptic landscapes. White dedicates a wall on the third room to his trompe l’oeil album covers—complete with tiny writing on the side spines to trick the eye.
Walking through the show with a very tall White and seeing him next to the scale model sizes of his paintings (which are also hung low to the floor; at 1/3 scale of where they would hang at full size), feels like tripping down the rabbit hole. “It is meant to be a replica of a museum show,” explains White. “These are my greatest hits from over the years, all the way back to 1996 and a couple from my very first show. We sent low res images of the paintings to China. These are replicas of the paintings, like a diorama of a retrospective.” The reason White is exhibiting replicas is simple: “The only way to accommodate this much work in a tiny space is to have a scale model. I don’t have a museum retrospective, so I had to make my own. I will only sell this as one piece. To me it is hilarious and ridiculous, a separate conceptual piece from the rest of the show.”
The album cover paintings are the same size as actual album covers: “I had some of them in the studio and people would barely look at them because they just thought they were albums leaning up against the wall. They are based on existing albums. You are meant to think they are the real thing until you realize something is horribly wrong with them,” says White. “The Elton John one started it off. In a dream, I was in a record store looking at vinyl. I saw that album and picked it up. It was exactly like the cover except he had little asshole eyes. In the dream I was laughing. When I woke up I was still laughing. I tried to maintain that level of absurdity and that surreal quality. It is something immediately recognizable, but then you realize something is off. I have done ones as popular as the Eagles Greatest Hits and something as obscure as this Andy Williams record.”
In the center room White commented on the obsessive level of details in the large paintings. “It comes naturally. These three pieces are structurally based on paintings by John Martin. The way they were structured, 80 to 90 percent of the top was a giant cataclysm of lightening, clouds, tidal waves and weather. At the bottom there would be these tiny little figures on cliffs screaming and jumping off. I feel like we are at a place societally where we are in trouble. The title of the show was almost ‘RomCom Apocalypse.’ It is kind of about the cataclysm that is American pop culture.”
Three of the paintings depict rows of theater seats at the bottom, and the large-scale piece seems to have an endless number of them. “It’s all about media being overwhelming. They are all imaginary films. I always knew it was going to be a disaster to paint those seats. I put it off and put it off. It was haunting me,” admits White. “I would worry about it at night and I would come in the morning and look at it and have a panic attack because I knew it was going to be a disaster to do, but they are here now, somehow.”
White created the show specifically for the Martha Otero Gallery and worked on the major pieces for the show simultaneously. The show includes the largest piece he has ever painted; measuring the maximum size that would fit through his studio window. “I wanted it to feel massive and overwhelming and eventually I want to build this idea as a 3D installation, a physical space based on this structure. I could make a scale model of it that you could stick your head in and see all the seats and screens and make videos for the trailers.”
On his painting “Mommie Issues 2: The Reckoning,” White says, “I knew that several pieces would take place in theaters. I have a few different sketchbooks and there is a sketch for this piece in every one. This idea would not leave me alone. It just seemed like such an absurd idea, about watching a movie about a guy defacing a magazine. I tend to take my work too seriously and myself too seriously—I really wanted to try to break that. My favorite response is to see people walk up to this painting and crack up. That’s the best thing I could have happen.”
On opening night Martha Otero welcomed White’s new works, which were viewed by a gallery full of fans and colleagues including Mark Ryden, Gary Baseman, Shepard Fairey, Tim Biskup, and the Clayton Brothers. Eric White’s “All of This Has Not Occurred” is on view at LA’s Martha Otero Gallery until 18 January 2014.
Images courtesy of Eric White