Seattle Pop Artist Puts Plastic in the Spotlight

A young Seattle artist’s provocative portraits sift through the layers of consumer culture, attracting the attention of some of the city’s art luminaries


Observing the world around him, newly minted Cornish College of the Arts grad Anthony White, 24, takes a very “meta” view. A dyed-in-the-wool millennial, he belongs to a generation that has never known a world without selfies, social media and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. During his years of exploring painting and sculpture at Cornish, he developed a striking style with an unusual medium, creating intricate sculptural paintings that explore technology, consumerism and mass production, produced by the very material that sometimes expresses those concepts: plastic.
White’s vision arose from an interest in the 3-D printer—the now ubiquitous tool being used to construct everything from engine parts to houses—and a New York City gallery show about what it described as “digitally minded painting.” “I started thinking about different kinds of plastic in 3-D printers, the mass producing of consumer objects, replication; I started thinking about selfies and how they compared to plastic,” he says.
For his senior BFA exhibition, White created a series of portraits with a kind of plastic used in 3-D printing, loaded into handheld 3-D “pen” printers—“technology that’s essentially a glue gun,” he says—depicting human subjects, phones in hand, provocatively posing for selfies. For his generation, when it comes to intimacy and romance, White explains, “it’s as if we are emotionally and romantically investing in the technology rather than the person.”
Like the subjects in his BFA show, White is also a user of social media, which, in his case, is helped along by an outgoing personality and a charismatic smile. He was already attracting attention before graduating, gathering Instagram followers, getting to know the power players of the Seattle art scene and curating regular art shows for Studio E’s pop-up at Amandine Bakeshop in Capitol Hill and a serial group show, While Supplies Last, at venues around the city.
White grew up in Prescott, Arizona with supportive parents who nurtured his creative impulses—he literally used his dad as a canvas to learn how to tattoo—and developed a faith in his ability and talents in a way that kids taught they can be anything tend to do. So, it was no big deal when he asked artist and Cornish instructor Dan Webb to invite Greg Kucera, one of the city’s most respected gallerists, to visit his BFA show. “What did I have to lose?” says White.
Kucera came to White’s exhibition and liked it enough that he bought a painting, rare acts for a busy Seattle gallerist used to working with career artists and traditional painters. Rarer still, Kucera asked White if he could create more works, which White did, and every one of them sold at the Seattle Art Fair before the event officially opened to the public. Finally, Kucera offered White a solo show at his prestigious gallery. “I haven’t worked with an artist this fresh out of art school in over 10 years,” Kucera says. “There’s a brashness to the work; I’m impressed by it, repelled by it. I don’t find the material he’s using attractive, but what he’s doing with it is very compelling.”
Over the summer, White presented a new series at Bellevue Arts Museum’s Bellwether art festival, turning his attention to that instantly recognizable consumer status symbol: the luxury shopping bag. Covered in plastic, the found objects, formerly with no value of their own, are transformed into what the museum describes as “a readymade art object [and] a fossil of its contemporary age.”
To create his painstakingly detailed paintings, bead by plastic bead, White himself becomes a machine, applying new layers to the most manufactured parts of our culture.
“It’s scary, but it’s awesome,” White says, “to think about the algorithms in a machine, how the artificial and the fake might take over the world, how easy it is to replace the things that are human. I wanted to flip that, to show that humans can mimic the machine.”