Immersed in Memory with Darren White
Georgia Beard reveals how our autumn cover artist, Darren White, reflects our own memories of childhood and the natural world in his abstract, nostalgia-tinted landscapes.
After a heavy rain, Darren White and his friends stand on the beach. Mellow but disturbed after another torrent of seasonal rain, the white-tipped waves dare the boys to plunge in with their surfboards. Heard above the breeze, their conversation is always the same:
“It’s so murky and uninviting.”
“More than murky.”
“True, it’s totally feral. Is it worth risking an ear ache?”
“Think so, I’m still keen!”
Darren is familiar with these moments when the calm conditions of the ocean meet the dirty reality of run-off, but his choice has always already been made.
“It doesn’t really seem to matter what you’re thinking,” he said. “If you ask the question, you’re following suit — in this case it means going in anyway, even with the decent amount of hesitation in your mind.”
Darren’s memories of this regular, post-storm surf session eventually spilled onto a canvas.
His generous layering of acrylic paint and free-flowing black markings became Washed Out, the texturally-stunning front cover art for this Autumn issue of IN Noosa Magazine.
The canvas looks like a dreamscape on an overcast day, undulating coastal dunes of pink, orange and green sinking into a flat, milky-white ocean. It’s a familiar place you might visit several times in your sleep.
From his childhood in New Zealand to his adult life in Noosa, the contemporary painter has always tapped into visceral memories to inspire his minimalist abstract landscapes.
“They’re not clear photographic moments but they’re incredibly powerful,” he said. “Kind of like how the smell of a long-forgotten sunscreen has the power to transport you to another time and place.”
In his mind and on the canvas, Darren often revisits his own past – the small coastal town where he grew up, nurtured by creative people and the natural environment.
“My first inspiration was the landscape — I grew up eating my breakfast in a house on the side of a mountain, facing the ocean and looking up the secluded west coast beaches,” he said.
“This led to constant daydreaming and is something that still comes to me in the studio in different ways.”
His career developed organically, earning him recognition when he naively entered one of Australia’s most prestigious landscape art prizes, The Paddington Art Prize.
“When we turned up to the awards night, my work was right there at the front of the room,” he said. “That was all it took to boost my confidence and share my work.”
After taking his artwork to art fairs in Sydney and Melbourne, Darren grabbed hold of new opportunities and fostered long-lasting relationships with collectors, dealers and galleries across Australia and New Zealand.
Now basking in national acclaim, his work has also appeared in local exhibitions including Noosa Open Studios 2020 and 2021, the Bentley’s 40 Under 40 Art Prize 2022 at the Butter Factory Arts Centre and the Local Artists – Local Content Art Prize 2017, 2018, 2021 and 2022 at Caloundra Regional Gallery.
Darren’s artistic process is heavily influenced by freedom, as he allows his subconscious to guide his hand and create by happenstance.
“At a certain point, I relinquish control and allow the paint to do its own thing,” he said. “It gives the final paintings an energy that I couldn’t achieve if I tried to control everything.”
While his memory-based works of Australia have a tone of maturity, he believes his paintings of New Zealand landscapes are much more fantastical.
“Naturally, I tend to question how true some of my young-life memories are,” he said. “Often, it’s fun to just fully believe them. Did I actually often head around the mountain on the wild, winding gravel road, crammed in the back of an old wagon, or was it just once and a super short trip?
“The visual space in my work allows people to slow down and just remember, without photos or technology, allowing their memories to be free to fill in the scene.
“At times, it could be sparked simply by a colour I use or an unexpected reference like a clamshell soap dish, kitsch homewares in a holiday house or a gravel road filling the car with dust.”
Although Darren develops each painting from a personal connection, he loves discovering how audiences bring their own nostalgic experiences to his work.
“I want to gift people a sense of peace through my work by reminding them of positive memories. The ones that come from the deepest places of security and familiarity are opened through nostalgia.”
Although memories may be nebulous, shapeshifting things, Darren’s abstract recreations of the past will always encourage us to take comfort in what was and find hope in what is to come.
To view more of Darren’s work or for updates and complimentary tickets to his exhibitions, visit www.darrenwhite.com.au