According to the artist, Susan Tobey White dance is part of Maine. In history, as well as now. *
“I live in Belfast, where the downtown is made up of old brick buildings. I have been in most of them. Meeting and dance halls are often found on the second floor and even a ballroom in one,” explains White. “I have heard stories of dances in these spaces long ago. Before TV, social gatherings and dances were what happened. When we first moved to Maine, it was very common to drive a distance to go to a dance.”
Even still, she is often asked, “Why dance? This is Maine. Where are your lighthouses and lobster boats?”**
Her instinct is to always answer that art is about emotion, no matter where you live.
“I started my dance series as a ‘heart to hand’ experience,” explains White. “ It was completely a response to having a space of my own to create where I blast music and paint…without thought.”
The actual story is when White first opened her studio, she was overcome with the need to make money, not an uncommon frustration at times with artists. “I was working on a tedious watercolor of colorful a blueberry field. I became frustrated with some tiny lines I was creating.”
Then with a mental head shake, she began to question what she was doing? She deserved this beautiful studio, she earned it. She should be celebrating, not struggling.
“I taped a large 36×48 watercolor paper to the wall. I put on some good-to-move-to tunes and started painting,” tells White. “A large, full hipped woman appeared….totally unplanned. I stepped back. ‘Where did she come from?’ I started adding details and patterns using color intuitively.”
White was teaching elementary art at the time, so bright colors and patterns were part of her visual vocabulary.
“As I became comfortable drawing these people, I started to really study color through the application of glazes,” she explains. “Years later, my process is similar, though of course not exactly the same either.”
That magical from ‘heart to hand’ doesn’t always happen every time she paints. Although she has learned to help the process by what she calls ‘ Honoring the Accidents.’
“I often pour or loosely brush, overlays of transparent colors without thought. Using multiple layers until I see the figures. The painting builds from there,” White says. “Sometimes, I may have an idea, but not always. After that, I manipulate the process.”
What does a toddler do when they hear music? They wiggle and move. It’s what we all do. I like to put a brush in my hand…with hopes that magical from ‘heart to hand’ moment will appear.
A note on Susan Tobey White’s Artist Choice – Rhythm in Red.
*There was the Red Barn in Monroe, the Blue Goose In Northport, another one in Liberty and, of course, the Grange and other community halls. Dance is now an integral part of our community with our street dances and contra dances.
** I also paint Maine scenes. We live in a beautiful area I need to capture it in my world. I am currently focused on painting a series of Lobstering Women of Maine, which was on display at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport during their 2019 season.