This Moment in Time: A Conversation with Anthony White and José Carlos Diaz

With his first solo SAM exhibition, Limited Liability, coming to a close in a few short weeks, 28-year old Seattle artist Anthony White woke up bright and early one December morning to meet Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz in the galleries of his exhibition before the museum was open to the public. Sitting around the retro lunchroom table—the centerpiece of SAM’s 2021 Betty Bowen Award winner’s gallery—the two spoke about the response he’s received to Limited Liability, the meticulousness of his practice, queer representation in art, what’s next for Seattle’s rising star, and what it means to artistically render this moment in time.

Read the full interview below and experience Anthony White: Limited Liability at SAM’s downtown location before it closes Sunday, January 29.


José Carlos Diaz: I want to start off here by thanking you and SAM curators Catharina Manchanda and Carrie Dedon for putting this exhibition together. Limited Liability was the second exhibition that opened after I joined SAM in July 2022, and it’s been a joy getting to know you and to see visitors interact with your paintings. So, my first question is: What has been the response to this exhibition. What have you observed? What have you heard visitors say while seeing your artwork at SAM?

Anthony White: Overall, the response has been great. I think people are excited to see work like mine in an established institution. My work is vibrant and modern, and I think it can be refreshing to see in a museum gallery. It’s always fun to see people stumble on artwork they weren’t really expecting to see at a museum. I will say, everyone is infatuated with my age. I didn’t expect I’d receive so many comments about that.

JCD: Did they think you were older?

AW: Yeah. Generally, people are surprised that someone my age is able to do this.

JCD: It’s definitely incredible that someone your age has a solo exhibition at a major regional museum.

AW: Totally, but it’s still incredibly surprising to me. And a lot of people did reach out to say that it was nice to have something that they could relate to. There were a lot of people that would identify with certain symbols and objects that came out of very specific time periods. It’s really cool to see how my artwork connects with people, even if in the smallest degrees.

JCD: That’s great to hear! Many people may not yet know this, but SAM actually acquired one of your works from this exhibition. The artwork that the curatorial team and the board approved is UNTIL THE END OF TIME (2022). It was really important to our team to acquire this particular artwork because it really reflects the diversity within SAM’s collections, but it’s also a representation of an artist who is living and working in Seattle. But, as a curator myself, I was curious how you’d like to see your artwork displayed and used in the future when you visit SAM? Maybe in a different context? With similar or different artworks? Is this something you’ve thought about?

AW: First, I want to say how excited and honored I am to have my artwork in SAM’s collection. It’s an incredible way to be connected to this institution for a long time. But I do often find myself thinking about what happens to artworks that end up in collections. I think most institutions either keep their works either independently displayed somewhere or they pull it into a group installation to give it additional context. My hope is that UNTIL THE END OF TIME is shown alongside other artworks at SAM that tell the stories of time.

JCD: Would you be interested in seeing it integrated into the European galleries, as having a conversation or even challenging the Old Masters?

AW: Certainly.

JCD: I think that’d be a really fun conversation to have! Many of the European artworks in SAM’s collection capture a specific moment or time in history. With your artwork alongside these other pieces, I think they’d be talking about the same exact things but across vastly different time periods. I love it!

AW: I think there are endless opportunities for my artwork to interact with historic artworks throughout SAM’s collection. It’s fascinating to see how our interpretations of everyday life have changed over time.

JCD: Plus, it’s the first artwork in the collection featuring Kim Kardashian. 

AW: She should be honored. Someone tell her!

JCD: I was so thrilled that you’ve gotten so much press from this exhibition. But what’s made me the most proud is seeing all of the national press you and SAM have received about the work that’s being done in Seattle in showcasing LGBTQ+ art. 

That being said, the work I find myself gravitating toward the most in Limited Liability is JOYRIDE (2022). Because you have such a deep visual archive, I was blown away when you revealed—at least to me—that the format of this painting is based on Picasso’s Still Life With the Caned Chair (1912), which was a really groundbreaking moment for Picasso. But then, looking deeper at your painting, this idea of a joyride, it has such a coded language specifically around queerness and blackness; It’s almost like a special language. Walking up to this painting—even as someone who works at the museum and has seen it many times—it’s clear that there’s so much joy in it. So, I wanted to ask you to elaborate on your use of coded or visual languages throughout your art.

AW: Yeah, I think JOYRIDE offers people a way of getting to know me, my practice, and my experiences that my other works may not do so much. There is a slightly discreet symbolism and language that I’m using in this work and that has led to the invention of an entirely new way of speaking within my practice, I think.

I don’t like to spoon-feed people and give them only one way to see, think, and interpret my work. For example, JOYRIDE includes a sticker that says ‘cruisin’ that can be interpreted in two totally different ways. You could either think about it within the context of hard culture and vehicle cruising, or think about it as speaking toward a homoerotic experience, activity, or participatory event. So, the decision to interpret pieces and little details like those throughout my work is ultimately up to the viewer.

JCD: I can definitely see the nature of the symbolism you’re talking about. I think there’s also this playfulness with the inclusion of the Lisa Frank stickers and the young anime woman in red. And, in looking at all the works in this gallery, I think you once told me that you make one self portrait per year. Is that true?

AW: It is true. 

JCD: Can you talk about the origins of this tradition? How is your process of depicting yourself different from that of the rest of your work?

AW: Every year, there comes a month where I feel an unrelenting need to get my feelings and the way I’m seeing myself onto a canvas. It’s been a very strict practice that I’ve had for the past five years. I think it’s just as important to depict myself within a specific period of time as it is to depict the cultural objects and symbols that define it.

My self-portraits are also a bit more dramatic than my other works. I feel more comfortable and honest with the subject since it’s myself. In HYPNOSIS (2022), I’m lying horizontally on my stomach, staring deep into the void.

JCD: The void being the cellphone.

AW: Yes, It’s that constant endless rabbit hole that we all get sucked into these days. I think this was a pretty daring piece to execute and I didn’t want to inaccurately represent someone else with a piece like this.

JCD: The subject is you but I think the work is really representative of all of us today. It’s a beautiful piece.

You’ve had many people ask you about your complex process. When I first saw your work, I thought they were textile-based. They almost looked like quilted pieces of material—even your self portrait. I know you’ve talked about your use of melted coils of colored plastics quite a bit but I think it’s a very revolutionary medium—I think it’s called polylactic acid. The device you use to paint is very meticulous too. You’ve mentioned that it can take over a hundred hours to complete a single painting.

AW: It can. Sometimes longer.

JCD: But you’ve also previously mentioned that there is a sort of intuition to creating your paintings; that it’s an organic process. How do you balance the strict boundaries of using polylactic acid with your organic, or intuitive, process?

AW: There are definitely some set boundaries with the process. The methods I use to melt the plastic and draw lines on my canvas are very specific. But, there’s also this sort of synthetic or artificial nature to it that I find complementary to what I want to represent on each panel. That was really fun to stumble on at the very beginning of my practice. Although everything is very systematic, there’s a natural intuition that comes into play the more I work with this medium. Like an oil painter, I create my own palette for each work.

JCD: Your use of this medium is incredible. There’s an intense satisfaction that I think everyone receives from seeing your work in person. Have you faced any challenges with the digital life of your work? It’s interesting because you source so much content from the digital world in your art, and now that art is part of our collective digital archive. Is this something you’ve thought about?

AW: There are challenges with not being able to translate my works accurately in a digital image. As we move forward in our technological world, there may be a time when our methods of documentation of works such as my own are displayed differently. But there is so much satisfaction with seeing my, and all, paintings in person. 

That’s not to say I want my work to be an exclusive viewing experience—I want anyone and everyone who wants to see my work to see it! But, I’ve heard many people say they had no idea of the meticulousness of my art until they saw it in person. Only then do they understand how much complexity there is within each of my works. You can see the evidence of my hand, every line that I make, what direction I led my pen, and the decisions I made with every mark.

JCD: I never like to ask an artist what inspires them, but I can’t stop myself this time. What is actually inspiring you right now?

AW: At this specific moment? A lot of podcasts.

JCD: I wouldn’t have guessed that.

AW: Of course, my main influences are social media, but a lot of the things I listen to while working are podcasts about white collar criminals, corporate fraud, technological advances, and the state of the world. All of my canvases are inspired by what I’m listening to and my perception of the direction our world is headed in, but I think that does change over time. One day, I want to be able to look at the archive of my work and pinpoint precise moments of my life. I’ll create a timeline by identifying certain symbols and objects across every work.

JCD: But that’s not to say your work itself is dated. It captures specific moments in time but has longevity in its interpretation.

AW: And the world moves so fast, too. So, I think it is accurate to say that some of my works are dated. Certain objects pictured within them are already obsolete.

JCD: It’s interesting to think how future scholars will interpret the artworks being made during this period in time, especially yours. That’s the dream, right?

AW: Yes, but I think they should be a bit more concerned with the state of their existence. There’s a meme I recently saw that said if you showed somebody back in 2000 how much content we consume now, they would have a meltdown. It’d be so overwhelming. Our past selves would be stunned by the pace of life today. Hopefully, it slows down in the years to come but you never know.

JCD: I’ve never thought about that.

You have an exhibition coming up, Extended Warranty at Greg Kucera Gallery, opening in January. It sounds like you’ve got no plans of slowing down in 2023. So what’s next? What can the public expect to see in that exhibition and what else are you working on in the coming year?

AW: Yeah! That’ll be a smaller exhibition than Limited Liability, but it’s sort of an extension of thought that resulted from building the body of work that’s on view at SAM. As this exhibition opened, I was still thinking through these ideas of materialism and digital culture and wanted to extend them into the exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery. So, both exhibitions—Limited Liability and Extended Warranty—explore similar threads. I have these trains of thought that I’ve been exploring since I became an artist and I want to continue seeing them out in the months and years ahead.

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

An Honest Approach to Art: Inye Wokoma on Reimagining SAM’s American Art Galleries

“Historically, when we say the word ‘American,’ it typically denotes white people. But the actual story of what has happened on this continent over the past half millennium is so much more complex.”

– Inye Wokoma

When deciding what artworks to include in their reinstallation of SAM’s American art galleries, SAM curator Theresa Papanikolas and co-curator Barbara Brotherton weren’t interested in including conventionally beautiful or visually engaging artworks that are typically thought of as examples of American art. Instead, they thoroughly examined every American-made artwork in SAM’s collection and its relationship to the history and evolution of the United States. To ensure the two-year project incorporated as many viewpoints as possible, the curators invited visual artist and Wa Na Wari co-founder Inye Wokoma to guest curate a gallery that captures his personal interpretation of what American art is.

In the interview above—filmed before the renovation of the galleries—Inye discusses the need to reverse society’s existing exclusionary interpretation of American art, being invited to curate a gallery at SAM, and the inspiration he found in some of the galleries’ original artworks.

Visit Inye’s gallery on view now in American Art: The Stories We Carry at SAM’s downtown location and reconsider your own definition of American art.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Chloe Collyer.

My Favorite Things: Barbara Earl Thomas on Georges de La Tour

“I just like the idea of the fact that light can be the subject.”

– Barbara Earl Thomas

Hear from Seattle-based powerhouse Barbara Earl Thomas as she shares the experience of seeing Saint Sebastion Tended by Saint Irene at SAM. More than seeing, Thomas encourages you to listen to the painting, to notice the quiet of the moment being painted.

Georges de La Tour is often mentioned as one of the many followers of Caravaggio (ca. 1571–1610), the Italian artist who pioneered the use of strong contrasts of light and dark to heighten the drama and religious feeling in his paintings. Though De La Tour probably never saw a work by Caravaggio, the innovative style spread across Europe, and the French artist first introduced his own version of “tenebrism” in this depiction of a nocturnal scene of deliverance. It was such a popular image that no fewer than a dozen other versions exist. The original painting is probably lost; this example is one of the best of the other versions, and some scholars believe it came directly from his studio and may have had his direct participation.

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

Artwork: “Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene,” Georges de La Tour, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen in honor of Mimi Gardner Gates, 2008.67.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Middle Fork

“I like to think of the sculpture as a sort of skin that’s been shed by the tree, and that it’s thickness is roughly commensurate with how long it would take the tree to grow the same thickness as the sculpture. So in a way, what we’re talking about is something that’s an ode to those two years in the life of the tree.”

– John Grade

John Grade’s large-scale sculpture, Middle Fork, echoes the contours of a 140-year-old western hemlock tree located in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle. Suspended above the Brotman Forum at our downtown location, this massive commissioned artwork involved the help of many hands. Volunteers, including SAM Staff, contributed time and thought to the placement of each small piece of cedar that was used to create this stunning sculpture. Watch this video for an in-depth look at the process of creating this work: from working with arborists to cast the living tree, to working with art handler to install hanging sections at SAM—Grade’s installation is an impressive reminder of art’s power to bring people together under its many branches.

Art Making Activity

Eventually John Grade’s sculpture will go back to the forest and decompose back into the soil. This makes us think about the circle of life for trees and wonder how humans are connected to nature and how is nature connected to humans? What materials do we use all the time that come from trees?

Create your own sculpture of a tree using a paper bag!

  1. Find a paper bag of any size, open it and place it on a table. If you want, you can put a small square of cardboard inside the bottom of your bag to make it more stable.
  2. Make cuts from the top of your bag down to the middle of your bag. I chose to do eight cuts, but you can do more or less! This will make flaps at the top of your bag.
  3. Squeeze the bottom of your bag together and twist it as tight as you can. This will be the trunk of your tree. Just like you squeezed the trunk, squeeze together two top flaps at a time. These will be your branches.
  4. Move your branches around and look at your tree from every angle. Move your tree to different locations and build more trees to make a forest. Each one will look different.
  5. Think about the life cycle of your tree: it was a living tree, then paper, then a paper bag, and now you turned it into a sculpture of a tree. What will happen to it next? What is it like to have a tree indoors? What does it make you think about or remind you of?

We want to see your artwork! Share a photo of your tree with us via email or on social media using #StayHomewithSAM!

Story Time Suggestions

Because of an Acorn, by Lola M. Schaefer & Adam Schaefer. See the book read out loud here.
This book illustrates the interconnectedness of the natural world, showing how a tiny acorn connects to the plant and animal life of an entire forest.
The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. See the book read out loud here or here.
This controversial yet classic tale can be read as a parable between humanity and nature.
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. See the book read out loud here.
This classic environmentalist tale reminds readers, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Image: Middle Fork, 2014–2017, John Grade, American, B. 1970, cedar, 105 ft. long x 30 ft. diameter, Seattle Art Museum commission, Photo: Ben Benschneider.

Sea Change at SAM Gallery

Learn a little about one of the newest artists to join the SAM Gallery roster. Anne Marie Nequette‘s work will be on view in SAM Gallery from January –February 1 in the show New Art, New Artists 2020!

Nequette approaches her work from a background in sculpture, installation, and architecture. Her current body of work, Sea Change, focuses on the rapidly increasing displacement of people in coastal cities worldwide that are considered at high risk. She thinks about all of the people who live at the sea’s edge, and how water levels are now expected to rise, and where will those millions of people go? and how? She has long been concerned about “where we humans are headed regarding climate change, from forest fires to coastal flooding, from collapse of agricultural lands and practices to collapse of necessary species, oceans, and safe drinking water, etc. The power of water is something that many people underestimate, and only those who have survived a flood or hurricane have some idea of what that might be like.”

The idea and the initial list of cities for Sea Change came from an article in The Guardian in 2017.[1] It included interactive maps of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Miami, The Hague, and Alexandria that showed the grave danger these cities face, given their high population numbers (Shanghai at 34.8 million in 2015) and/or precious agricultural land (Alexandria and the Nile Delta). She works abstractly, primarily in paint and collage. If she has been to the city depicted, she relies on her experience to create a color and texture palette from paper on which she draws and paints. If she has not been to the city, she reads about the city and travels via Google image, and Google satellite maps looking at the city from above as well as from the street, to get a feel for what it is like. As she works, she imagines a city that has become inundated, though not completely underwater.  Each of these works is titled with the population figures from governmental sources for the metropolitan areas and the works are named for the people, their cities, and the year the population number was last updated, i.e., ‘Shanghai, China, 39.4 million in 2015’.

– Pamela Jaynes SAM Gallery Coordinator 

[1] The three-degree world: the cities that will be drowned by global warming, (Friday, November 3, 2017) Josh Holder, Niko Kommenda and Jonathan Watts (updated May 28, 2018). 
Bangkok, Thailand, 14.6 million in 2010, Anne Marie Nequette, Collage on canvas. Keihanshin (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe), Japan, 19.3 million in 2010, Anne Marie Nequette, Collage on canvas.
SAMBlog