Charlie White's richly narrative work inserts otherwordly creatures into situations that range from banal to melodramatic: a puppet everyman sings forlornly on the scene of a car accident in an Interpol video, a naked alien character mingles at what looks like a suburban swingers' cocktail party, and doll-like children play in a clichÃ©d oil painting of a rural yard. The effect is eerily compelling, a blend of the grotesque and the everyday that's landed him on the roster at New York's Andrea Rosen Gallery, put his work in the pages of Vogue Homme International among other notable mags, and will see two new books published within the next year. Here, in our second prelude to Semi-Permanent, White discusses violence and youth in his new work, gymnastics, and Los Angeles.
How did you get here?
I grew up in Philadelphia. After high school I went to School of Visual Arts in NYC, and then to Art Center College of Design for my master's degree. I moved to LA for graduate school in 1996, and have been there since.
What are you doing now?
My days are spent between my studio and teaching at USC. I am completing a new series of photographs that will show in January in NYC at Andrea Rosen Gallery. The series, which will be seven images total, is titled "Killing Machine." The project draws relations between youth-driven violence, unjust death, and teen sexuality, through time. With a nonlinear map based on personal relevancy, the project links subjects that range from Susan Atkins to Mary Lou Retton, in an exploration of both factual and fictional representations of erotic moments and revolutionary periods in time. I am also finishing a year-long, photographic survey of a teenage girl's life,The Cyrilla Project, which will be published as a book later this year by Greybull.
What are your current obsessions?
The Manson trial, Joan Didion, zombies. Books: The White Album, Helter Skelter, The Beautiful and Damned, The History of Satan. Scout Niblet's new album Kidnapped By Neptune, and I'm also very into Sufjan Stevens and his new album, Illinois. I don't have a TV nor do I play video games. Last thing I googled? Gymnastics. I have been thinking about what it means to be a young woman, to be 16. This has a lot to do with The Cyrilla Project and having spent the last year in intensive research with one person's life. I have also been thinking about gymnastics and the power of the young female body in these circumstances.
What role does Los Angeles play in your work?
I am not sure about any specific aesthetic to LA. I am sure there is one, but it does not seem important to me – I am more preoccupied by what I would consider to be an American aesthetic generated from Hollywood, from the West, from fantasy. As far as working near Hollywood, well that is only a benefit for me – I have access to many very talented people.
New series showing in January, and the before-mentioned "Cyrilla Project," plus a new monograph of the four series I have done from 1999 to 2005. Goliath will publish the monograph.
Above all I tell [my students] to learn about everything they can and look at as much as they can. To never stop paying attention and questioning and thinking.