by Marianne Menditto
Popular realist painter Bill White, a native of Washington State, was born in 1947, mostly self-taught, with a few classes at the University of Washington. After being disillusioned with that, he spent 25 years as a self-employed graphic designer & sign painter honing his brush-work skills.
Then in 1998, several portrait classes and workshops at the Seattle Academy of Fine Arts confirmed to him that he “kinda knew how to do it!”
Following a long held dream, Bill moved to Puerto Vallarta in 2005. He found plenty of material to inspire him in the vibrant colors & action of the life that is Mexico. He found success right away as a commissioned portrait painter. A particular honor was being commissioned to paint 11 of the Bishops and Priests for the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish for display in their museum. His first gallery was Gary Thompson’s “Galeria Pacifico”, he transitioned over to John Strawn & Karen Jenanyan’s “The Loft Galeria”. This updated interview (originally published June 2013) shows some of his work currently available at The Loft Galeria in colonia Centro, Puerto Vallarta.
Marianne: What attracted you to live & work in Puerto Vallarta?
Bill: The people…their kindness & acceptance, their generosity. I was here many years ago and ended up staying with a local family. That was so eye opening.
Vallarta is very different now, I mean it’s a big city now…but the people are still the same to me. I think I’d be very lonely if I returned to the United States. I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. This is a great little neighborhood.
There was a couple who used to run the little corner store about 3 blocks away, if I was ever feeling down when I went in there, they would have me right back up!
Then there’s my VW guy just down the hill there. His daughter works there in the shop with him. She’s a brilliant girl and she’s just there helping her dad…so when my car breaks down I get to go visit with her and it’s such a pleasure.
Marianne: I know you speak a little Spanish…do you get much practice?
Bill: A little. But there are so many locals who want to practice their English, that I end up speaking Spanglish.
Marianne: What inspires you at this time, what really gets your juices going?
Bill: Good painting!!! Good representational art, color and color combinations. People that can make the human form look so real, but not exactly painted photographically.
Marianne: What painting medium do you favor & why?
Bill: Oils…because I LOVE IT! it’s very versatile. Oils have a great depth of color & I can control the surface whether it’s flat or glossy….it’s easier to blend, which is important in Realism.
Marianne: How about contact with other artists?
Bill: No, I don’t have a lot of contact other artists here, especially during the summer months…but, I enjoy their company and I’m always looking for artists that can give me a little bit of an education, especially spending quality time with Davis Birks, BrewsterBrockman or Meg Munro. Even though our painting styles are very different, we still have lots in common. We discuss things about the importance of what we do & how to do it. I really have a lot of respect for their words.
Marianne: What are your favorite subjects?
Bill: It looks like the female form is what I paint the most. But having experienced the “Lienzo Charro” and “Las Escaramuzas”…the excitement, color, the movement of the horses & the riders. Over the years the wonderful folkloric dancers of the Baile Xiutla group here in Vallarta have been the major part of my subject matter.
Marianne: Are you telling stories with your paintings?
Bill: I try to, yes. I just like to see the beauty of the emotion of what’s going on and sometimes I’m able to capture things with a camera in the moment that hopefully I can portray in my paintings.
Marianne: So, you work from photos a lot?
Bill: Most of the time…yes, that’s the reality of it. It’s a little expensive to paint from life.
Over the years I’ve taken thousands of photos. I go through them & pick the best ones and I crop ‘em & I change ‘em and I put other figures in ‘em & look at the compositions. I play with a lot of stuff on Photoshop before I ever decide to paint.
Marianne: Tell us about your painting process, do you sketch studies?
Bill: Ahhh…I hardly ever sketch anymore, I get right to the painting process and I really miss that part. When I was younger…drawing was a part of my exploration…working with a pencil. I just don’t do it enough anymore, if ever, because I’m always trying to work for a show…get those paintings out.
Marianne: So, do you work on multiple paintings at one time?
Bill: I do…I find that very interesting, Then I can stick them out in my living-room on an easle and stare at ’em and get a better perspective while I’m waiting for them to dry and I can be working on something else. It’s very important.
Marianne: Do you work in series?
Bill: Not really…I just look at what I think would be a good painting or fun to do…….
Marianne: Do you take advantage of the phenomenon of happy accidents?
Bill: I’m noticing those more and more ‘cuz I’m less & less in control.
Marianne: So…you’re loosening up your approach and evolving?
Bill: Yeah…it’s funny. I’m trying to find brushes that will allow me to paint more freely…oh and still get the job done in a quick manner as well. I also try to learn from other painters that I see on the internet…from instructional videos…to see if I can apply any of it. I learn a lot from the actual time of painting and practicing and making mistakes.
Marianne: How do you like the gallery you’re showing in now, The Loft?
Bill: Oh I LOVE them…seriously, I love them, they’re awesome. They’re very productive and professional and very responsible on a lot of levels. I’ve tried this last couple of years to not put anything into a show that isn’t really the best work.
Even though the gallery may be pressuring to get it done, I must get it to the point that I’m happy with it. And they’re very patient with me.
Marianne: Will you have a new show opening this season?
Bill: Not really…I’m sort of already there…I have a room dedicated to me now at The Loft. The pictures I’m sending you are of my currently available work and my new work from this last summer. (2013)
Marianne: Tell us about your new paintings, any new directions?
Bill: Yes, several of my favorite nude figurative paintings upstairs at The Loft. Most artists agree that the human figure is difficult to represent successfully and I take great pride in my latest series. I work at length with a model to get just the right image…one that portrays an emotion or expresses an elegance of composition and form. As a painter of portraits and the figure, I’m always looking for some interesting locations to place the figure.
For example, “My Day at Olinala Mask Shop” is a painting created with my model Carolina in a very interesting shop space filled with antique Mexican masks with colorful walls and unique architecture. I’m currently searching for spaces un-like my studio…spaces that have a colorful or truly Mexican interior. I find that it’s a better way to portray the people of Puerto Vallarta, by putting them into an environment that maybe tells a story or asks questions. Meanwhile, back at the easle, I’m currently painting another one for my very popular “Las Escaramuzas” series, a young girl on her horse in the Plaza de Armas.
Marianne: Do you have a philosophy of what is “Art”… or something that you can quantify?
Bill: I think there’s a lot of people that can be artists…it’s visual communication. For myself all I want to do is what I consider to be good art & that’s something only I know what is…and if I do that…that’s what’s gonna bring me peace. So, what art is in a broad sense, that’s all philosophy & if it’s of value to people at an emotional or spiritual level…that’s what gives us all a good reason to do it.
Marianne: And to that end, you pass along your considerable knowledge by teaching.
Tell us about your workshops.
Bill: I teach one or two classical portrait workshops in my studio each year to a minimum class of 5 students.
Private classes are also available. I can be reached at my website or email or specific details: www.billwhitefineart.com or email@example.com
Stop by The Loft Galeria at Corona #176-A col. Centro, Puerto Vallarta. or visit their