Art in the time of physical distance: Nelson White

April 2020

What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why?

Just finished Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. It was ok. I like horror and thrillers so just before the lockdown I went to the library and just grabbed a bunch of random books just because I liked the titles or covers. Not the best system to choose books but got a few things that I wouldn’t have normally read. Also revisiting some of my art books (I have a lot of art books) so currently going through the essays in Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables.


Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching?  Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site?

I like a variety of things. I often bring series in my studio, but usually something I don’t want to pay too much attention to but just have on as background noise. But I watched a lot of BBC series and I did really enjoy Ozark on Netflix as well as The Outsider on HBO. For the painters out there I recommend Portrait Artist of the Year 2020. It’s a competition show out of Britain with artists competing to win a commission. You can find all the episodes on YouTube (as well as previous years). They also have a Landscape Artist of the Year program if you’re so inclined.


What music or artist are you listening to right now and why?

I have pretty eclectic music taste; my iPod can go from Nina Simone to The Stooges to Tupac in three songs. Was listening to a bit of A Tribe Called Red as I was finishing up a painting of Angela Miracle Gladue, better known as Miss Chief Rocka, who tours and dances with Tribe. It was setting the mood. I can never go wrong with The Clash or The Ramones to get the blood flowing. I’ve even been known to throw on some Lizzo when driving. I’m pretty open to anything and like discovering new music.


Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work?  Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now?

I have always been pretty disciplined. I get up around 6am and am usually in the studio by 8:30. Actually feel I’m being very productive during this time. As for tips: tidy up your space occasionally, just to re-centre yourself. Also realize that just because you’re home all the time you don’t have to work from home all the time. Don’t go answering work emails at 11:30 at night when they can easily wait till the next morning. Give yourself a workday and do other things besides work. It’s easy to work all the time because it’s accessible and an activity, but try to schedule your day, give yourself some work hours and off hours. You’ll be more productive during both sections. But if you have small kids at home that’s all out the window and you have my sympathy .


Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything in particular you have discovered that has delighted you?

Soviet soldiers dancing on Twitter makes me smile every time they post (it’s exactly what you think it is). Have done a few virtual gallery tours and found places like the The Courtauld Gallery [in Somerset House, London] which has a shocking number of really famous paintings. There is an overwhelming amount of content these days and you can wind up going down rabbit holes to strange and interesting things. I have discovered a number of artists whose work I would have never seen normally. I also love seeing what people I know are making.


How has food provided a comfort?

I’m married to a professional baker and great cook, so food is a huge part of our day, planning, preparing, etc. Frankly, I’m eating very well and always have. Food is home. Occasionally we do try to order from a local restaurant just to support those trying to keep their business afloat.


Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with.

I’m at my house in St John’s (in the Rabbittown neighborhood). I’m with my family and pets (dog, cat, fish). My studio is the basement so I have an easy commute. I think the dog is enjoying having a full house home all day and he’s not going to be happy when everyone goes back to work.


In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic?

The generosity of people. There is a huge sense of community and that we are all in this together. In a more practical sense, being on an island, once it runs its course, the virus may be easier to contain here with strict travel guidelines so I could see our lives returning to normal a lot sooner than many other places.


Any overall words of wisdom to share?

Smile! People don’t smile enough and can go the whole day without doing it. When you wake up a smile before you even get out of bed, it will make you feel better.


What do you miss the most?

Hugs. I’m not an overly demonstrative person but do like a good hug.


Nelson White is a painter who is a member of the Flat Bay First Nation Band (No’kmaq Village). Over the last number of years, Nelson has exhibited frequently throughout Canada and the US in both group and solo shows. His work can be found in several private and public collections throughout North America. 


Artwork: Movement – Miss Chief Rocka (36×36”, oil on canvas) completed in isolation for my solo show Tukien (Awaken), which was supposed to open at the Grenfell Art Gallery in Corner Brook in May and at the Confederation Centre in PEI in October.