Playing with Accidents

by Jonathan Wright

Growing up on the east coast, sculptor Bruce White always thought big, inspired by boat-building and sailing. As a student at the University of Maryland, he was classmates with the legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson. After bouncing around universities in New York, Illinois and Florida, he settled in at Northern Illinois University, where he taught art for three decades.

As a child, White was fascinated by his mother’s sewing: how she could transform a flat piece of fabric into a three-dimensional dress. It got him to think “dimensionally”—something he’s done with metals all his life.

His works of abstraction begin as “play,” White explains, twisting and bending paper or thin sheets of metal into free-flowing curves, then repeating the process with large pieces of aluminum and steel.

He finds inspiration in the casual randomness of nature: the flutter of leaves as they fall to the ground, the play of sunlight through the trees, the lean of a tree branch, the silhouettes of birds—"all these wonderful patterns in nature,” he describes. “Anything that made me take notice, I would try to develop as a freeform.”

Even the holes in Swiss cheese served as a launchpad for one of White’s trademarks—the holes pierced at random into many of his sculptures.

Aretes by Bruce White“I realized they were never perfectly round; they were much more interesting,” he states. “I started trying to do that on metal. I would make irregular circles and ‘throw’ them onto the metal, then cut on a diagonal. Wherever they landed, I would cut the hole. It was better than anything I could have planned.

“I guess I played with accidents,” he adds. “And the results were so thrilling to me.”

White’s abstract work—which can be found in three countries and 15 states—doesn’t lend itself to easily recognizable forms. Instead it leaves space for the spectator to engage and interpret their sinuous curves, acute-cut angles and optical illusions. As the artist himself once said, “You don't have to know whether a tree is a pine or an oak to enjoy it." a&s

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