The Tournesol Award recognizes one Bay Area-based painter each year with a generous cash prize and a year long studio residency. Cate White, an artist whose life is intimately connected to the streets of West Oakland, paints portraits of friends, scenes from her experiences in Ferguson and a Louisiana prison, and archetypal characters involved in universal human struggle. She calls painting “a tool for reconciliation.” Her image-rich, post-comic paintings complicate and critique the social structures that divide us—including race, gender, and class—and poignantly narrate individual and shared vulnerabilities, rendered here as undeniably fraught, humorous, heart-stopping, and unapologetically authentic.
Offsite: The exhibition, opening reception, and artist talk are held at The Luggage Store, located at 1007 Market Street (nr. 6th St.), San Francisco, CA 94103. Click here for directions.
(Mis)Fits: The Narrative Disobedience of Cate White’s Both On Earth: A Poet’s Report by Arisa White
Find a way to be with it. The rugged strokes, what you take as simplicity, at first “cartoonish,” what you think is all joke, but there are narratives that weave through each painting—the cultural conversations, the “heard of the herd.”1
The pieces in Cate White’s Both on Earth speak to the intimacy needed to get at the humanity of those we are taught are other, opposite, not us/US. She paints (mis)fits, the intersectionality of experiences and identities that agitates the narratives that divide us into race, sex, gender, class, etc.
We live in a culture where the values of white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy frame our thinking, and have trained our eye, and therefore our consciousness, to be mastered by its narrative. Within this framework, particular bodies are sites for narrative disobedience: Sandra Bland, Rachel Dolezal, Rexdale Henry, Islan Nettles, and countless more.
Where you choose to locate yourself in any narrative, and in relationship to Cate White’s work, is based on your degree of fearlessness.
You may need to lean in closer to get the weight of sadness in the driver’s eyes, as he watches the naked woman take a picture of the Mike Brown memorial—candles appear melted in a heavy-handed cacophony of pinks, yellows, drawing you to the orange, recorded on the naked woman’s cellphone, and crows peer off rooftops, cops from side streets. Who’s looking at whom?
Where do we look in ourselves for the story in “In My Element”? Those shades of white, like blush, flour, chalk, whispers of dandruff that trouble our appearances?
In the gaze of that most articulate eye in “Cosmic Bitch Slap”—it’s a little bit funny, staring from a female form, traced out from a black background, before her face, maybe a speech bubble, maybe her tongue, and the silence is conveyed. “This is what links the victim and the perpetrator,” Cate reflects on the piece, “the act that brings them in contact.”
It is these contact zones that facilitate transcendence, where Cate emotionally captures these nuanced connections, unions within and without, where glitter spraypaint marks the holiness of the encounter. Where the mess of humanity is petrified in “trauma stones,” paint pours of black and white, that are reminders of our past possessions or our possessed past.
Cate’s motifs are a hook in a song, coming out the pleasure-paused face of the “______ Peeing in the Shower,” taking notice of the man climbing through the window, wondering: “Do you see me now?”
1. “The heard of the herd” is a phrase coined by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis.