Painter Bill White Uses Light For Inspiration

Painter Bill White taught at Hollins University for 39 years.

by Gene Marrano

After teaching studio art at Hollins University for almost 40 years, now-retired Professor Emeritus Bill White doesn’t want to think too hard when he paints now – just go with the flow, see where the shifting sunlight on a subject takes him, things like that.  White talked about some of his recent work, including rooftop landscapes he has painted in Paris and Roanoke, during a lecture and reception for his show “Empathy and Engagement”, closing Dec. 10 at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum on the Hollins University campus.

The show closes this weekend but White, a Botetourt County resident, has works on display and on sale at the Market Gallery downtown on Salem Avenue. He has also donated a series of panels detailing the Roanoke skyline to the Taubman Museum of Art. White works primarily with oil, but occasionally also produces pen and ink sketches.  Much of his work is biographical in nature, detailing where the artist might be at a particular point in time – paintings of his home studio for example.

To a packed house at Hollins, White described how he “suddenly felt alive” during a recent extended stay in Paris, France, where he often painted inside the small studio apartment he had rented.  One series of paintings and drawings White did there were based on famous works by other artists, including Monet. “[It was] a great experience in Paris…the ups and downs of it,” he noted.

One slide he showed during the Hollins lecture depicted a winter snowscape. Devoid of greenery, White instead concentrated on how shifting sunlight would change the feel of whatever subject he was painting.  Then there are the works he painted from atop the old Colonial Bank building downtown, which depict Roanoke from several hundred feet in the air:

“I happen to know Ed Walker,” said White, referring to the high profile developer and entrepreneur who lives with his family in a top floor condo of the building. Walker had just completed a rooftop deck and studio, where White spent his time. “The experience of standing in a particular spot,” yielded some compelling views of downtown Roanoke.

He also painted cityscapes from the balcony outside the Taubman Museum, where Hotel Roanoke, the Roanoke Higher Education Center, the H&C Coffee sign and the adjacent train yard were his subjects. White’s goal? “Be responsive to what is unique in that experience, when I am there.”

He also looks to paint, in a variety of colors and hues he often concocts himself, “how light changes the feeling of a space. Mostly what I’m interested in is the light.” Using two reds, two blues and two yellows on what he terms a double primary pallet, “I can make any color I want,” declares White, who earned a MFA from Temple University.

Being retired, although he has taught occasionally, has also allowed Bill White to pursue a different path with his painting. “I didn’t want to paint about ideas …I wanted to paint about experience [following a life in academia].”   Now he is free to “attack [the easel] like a little demon. Every experience is in the now,” said White to his Hollins audience, “that’s what I try to make my paintings about.”

Empathy and Engagement, an exhibit of Bill White’s paintings, runs through this Saturday at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University. His work can also be seen at the Market Galley (23 Salem Avenue) and at the Taubman Museum of Art.

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  1. Bill is a true artistic genius. I wish I could have been there to hear him speak. His passion for painting and art is inspiring and I continue to enjoy watching the progression of his skills and the new environments that he captures on canvas. And I LOVE the painting to the left of you in the photo above!!! Continue to invigorate me with your work, Bill!

  2. Bill’s artwork and his recent lecture Dec. 5 at Hollins are inspiring and bring alive the process of being a painter. Many people have no idea of what work is involved, the outlay of expense; these are mentioned, but what is memorable about Bill White is his excitement and pleasure while engaged in painting. Thanks for the summary. Ann Hale

  3. Gene,
    I have a correction to one statement you made, that is that I donated the Roanoke skyline work from the Taubman balcony to the Taubman. I still own that set of 4 paintings. The Studio Light Suite, which the museum bought in 1993 that is owned by them.

    Thanks, Bill

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