Nancy White’s paintings reach, for me, the platonic ideal of abstraction. Walking through Romer Young’s New Work, her second solo exhibition with the gallery (not one to fix something that isn’t broken, her first solo in 2018 was also titled New Work), I found myself sighing a lot. Not out of boredom or exhaustion, but in an unconscious and pure emotional reaction to a room of 10 uniformly arranged 16-by-13-inch untitled paintings.
What is it about these paintings? Why do they elicit from me, the stoic arts writer, the sounds of a heartsick teenager? Let me count the ways.
First, there’s satisfaction to be found in their precision. White paints with acrylic on linen, but her surfaces betray no brushstrokes. She paints hard-edged zones of color hemmed in by straight lines, sharp angles and sensuous curves, but they retain a trace of her hand. There is nothing machine-like in her shapes; the nubble of the linen gives texture to the matte paint.
If they suddenly morphed into extremely well put together people, you’d have a hard time deciding whether you wanted to be with them or simply be them.
Second, they are withholding. It’s hard to keep from crushing on someone who doesn’t reveal their whole self. Each painting practices a kind of formal restraint, limiting itself to a family of hues. The colors in her paintings, while rich, don’t overwhelm the subtlety of each composition. These are off-colors, further muted by sitting alongside other shapes just a shade or two different from themselves.