Using a complex repertoire of materials and style, with each work Betty White remains faithful to her oeuvre, in which the dimensions of the figurative multiply with appreciation, extending far beyond story image into the past and future, from fact into idea, and from the subconscious into the spiritual.
When I first encountered White’s work, I thought of it as encompassing the psyche, in the modern psychological sense of the word. It combined the unconscious with the material and corporeal, and further with higher consciousness, the super-ego that binds us to family and to all human society, and, finally, to the spiritual, joining naturally the circle to the initial realms of death and birth. This view has evolved, and now I use Psyche also in the ancient Greek and Roman sense, when it represented the soul and spirit of a person or place.
Betty White’s art works are almost always figurative, yet the faces they portray are as much stories as they are doors, open to co-existing dimensions. Rarely do they smile, yet these visages promise intimate knowledge of the entire panorama of human emotion. Rarely do they look back, but their bones map the journey of their ancestors, marching remorselessly into the future. At the same time they float, melding as effortlessly with the eternal and our oneness as they do with the physical reality of life’s day to day struggles and triumphs. They inhabit this world and are of it, with roots reaching deep into the earth for water and nourishment, and spirits that embody life’s experiences, while their auras link us all to the eternal, to hopes and dreams, to joys and sorrows, and ultimately to the soul of all human existence.
To visit White’s faces is to reside in their lovingly crafted habitat, one that acknowledges our lives on every level, from the deeply personal to the cosmological, all nested naturally within the continuum of history and time.
VJI October 2014