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Challenge #10: White (II)

Has the previous challenge convinced you of the richness and complexity of white?

In the theme of the portrait white could evoke candor or innocence. It became blue, red, pink or purple in landscapes and yet it was known to be white.

In this article, through new themes, white will show itself in other facets.

And before tackling the challenge according to the GORC method (Get Inspired-Observe-Reproduce-Create), here is the scientific minute today: “Whiter than White”.

Result of challenge #10 “White” (photo V. Lacroix)

Whiter than white

“Whiter than white”? Slogan or physical reality?

Physico-chemical reality. In fact, certain molecules have the power to increase the whiteness of textiles, paper, plastic, etc. These molecules, known as brightening agents, actually make white more luminous; thus “doped”, matter reflects more radiation back into the visible. How is this possible?

We see the objects because they return some of the rays they receive. Rays are characterized by a wavelength. However, our eyes only pick up those whose wavelength is between 380nm and 780nm. Our sensitivity is not equal over this interval: it increases from 380nm, reaches a peak around 555nm (in daytime vision) and then gradually decreases.

The trick with brighteners is to capture rays between 300nm and 400nm (not or hardly visible) and transform them into rays of wavelength between 400nm and 500nm, where we are more sensitive. This part of the spectrum (<500nm) is also responsible for our perception of blue, hence the bluish white sensation.

In addition, a slightly bluish surface, even less clear than a perfect diffuser, will be considered whiter. Therefore, in terms of perceived whiteness, the spectralon, a material mentioned in the previous challenge, will look grayish when compared to a cotton treated with a brightening agent.

Thus, added in detergents, bleaching agents allow to “wash whiter”.

And how do artists create whiter white?

Get inspired and Observe

The previous article on white partly answers the question above: the artists also discovered that blue magnifies white and that a contrast of brightness accentuates its whiteness. They also do not hesitate to use a range of beiges, whites tinged with yellow to give us the impression of a white, perhaps more “dirty” but which we would nevertheless call “white”.

Let us therefore observe in these themes, which are interiors, still life and finally fog, what feelings the artists develop in the viewer and what whites they use to express them.


Two painters are honored in this source of inspiration: the Spanish Antonio López García and the Dutch Jan van der Kooi. In this English version of the challenge, I have added the American Andrew Wyeth, hoping that the fair use of the images would be recognized.

Antonio López García’s bathrooms

Antonio López García (born 1936), an outstanding draughtsman, is a painter and sculptor of great sensitivity. His paintings, generally very large in size, project us beyond reality. His series of bathrooms creates a strange feeling in the viewer. If white is indeed the color of the “clean”, the ideal of an immaculate bathroom, it is used here in the opposite way.

Is it the depth of this one, conceived as a long, almost empty corridor, that gives this impression of solitude, of emptiness? With the exception of the foreground in the form of a floor of dubious cleanliness, everything is white. And in the following painting, we know that everything in this bathroom is white, or should be; in fact, everything is dirty, abandoned, dilapidated.

© Antonio López García, Bathroom
© Antonio López García, Bathroom

The bathroom below is both empty and inhabited. Empty through this mirror which reflects a bare wall that only a reflection passes through. Inhabited by everyday objects that invite us into the intimacy of a couple’s life. Notice the very structured composition, separated into two parts: the upper part, almost frontal, which in reality should reflect the image of the spectator, and the lower part, plunging.

The play of transparency, volume, reflections, lights and points of view: almost everything is translated into a shade of white.

Antonio López García, the sink

The interiors of Jan van der Kooi

Jan van der Kooi’s white interiors oscillate between reality and abstraction. The orange hue in the painting below suggests an afternoon in the generous sunshine. The glossy surface of the door, translated by a few whiter touches, contrasts with the mat wall and enlivens a balanced composition by the presence of subtle color frames. The effect of light drawing the window on the door is striking in its brightness and softness; a shadow on the left alters its contour and intrigues.

Jan van der Kooi (2013) (courtesy of the artist)
Jan van der Kooi (2011) (courtesy of the artist)

Above, the play of doors, one open, the other closed, and the play of light projected on the wall and on the reliefs of the frame, give rhythm to this white ensemble underlined by two dark grey rectangles. The transparency of a crystal vase, placed on the window sill at the top of the picture, is shown here in the purest and clearest white of the painting. The daffodils that occupy it are the only chromatic touch, or at least perceived as such.

In the same way, spring is expressed in the painting below by a flower in the foreground and a light filtered by a raw fabric swollen by the wind. Look again at all the shades of white that reveal different materials and surface qualities.

Jan van der Kooi, “Spring in my studio” (courtesy of the artist)
Jan van der Kooi, “Winter 19-20” (2020) (courtesy of the artist)

And here above, a recent painting, which still shows the virtuosity of the painter.

Andrew Wyeth’s beds

If you read the previous article on white, you would already know Andrew Wyeth as a master of white. The two paintings below provide further proofs of this evidence. Notice how all different white materials are rendered with hundreds of white shades.

Andrew Wyeth, “Undetected” (source Wikiart -— Note for the copyright: this is considered as fair use)
Andrew Wyeth, “Chambered Nautilus”(source Wikiart – Note for the copyright: this is considered as fair use)

Still life

The painters presented above have also expressed themselves in still life where white dominates; compare the approach of the first two on the same theme: a glass of water in a white environment.

© Antonio López García, glass of water
Jan van der Kooi (2013) (courtesy of the artist)

Three white pots are featured in Ged Rudrauf’s still life below, while a single Gesso pot is the subject of Vivian van der Merwe‘s (Instagram painting below. The latter has some colorful accents, not only in the pot handles, but also in the tablecloth, which is a relatively rough and stiff material, treated with great finesse. Observe the roundness of the shadows and the addition of lighter touches on the tablecloth, giving it a special look.

Ged Rudrauf
Vivian Van der Merwe, “Still life with Gesso pot”.

In a more playful style, below, Wayne Thiebaud’s (born 1920) white cakes; watch the slightly bluish frosting in the shadows. Notice again how the color added to the white gives an indication of the volume and orientation of the surfaces. The colorful edges of the plates contribute to the festive side of this table and the red lines in the cakes make them more appetizing. Several reproductions of this painting can be found on internet; if I would be invited to eat the cake, I would find the first one more appealing.

Wayne Thiebaud, Around the Cakes, 1962 © Wayne Thiebaud ( Note for the copyright: this is considered as fair use)
Wayne Thiebaud, “Around Cakes”, 1962 (source Wikiart Note for the copyright: this is considered as fair use)
Carol Marine, “Small Cups” (courtesy of the artist)

In her daily challenges (one day, one painting), Carol Marine masterfully synthesizes everyday objects. The small cups above are white, yet how many hues can you distinguish, or rather, do you see one missing? The shadows, the volumes, the reflections, everything is a pretext for a slightly colored white.

And to finish the still life section, an Alex Kanevski’s fridge, very simple and yet so efficient!

Alex Kanevsky, “Frigo” (2001) (courtesy of the artist and Dolby Chadwick Gallery).

The fog

White is also the color of fog. Thick, it is frightening; light, it is magical: it draws the silhouettes of trees as Tobias Spierenburg (born in 1977) depicts them. I particularly like this one, whose trunk completely disappears at ground level and becomes a tree without roots.

Tobias Spierenburg, painting (courtesy of the artist)

Some artists such as Ann Veronica Janssens and Olafur Eliasson even artificially create fog in their installations. The spectators experience and live the sensations it creates, depending on whether it is thick, light, confined indoors or in a natural setting.

Olafur Eliasson uses it explicitly to create a sense of impermanence and transformation. For my part, in this installation, he evokes the charm of misty mornings in green valleys.

Olafur Eliasson, “Fog Assembly” (2016)
Installation in the Palace of Versailles (Photo: Anders Sune Berg – courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson)


Below is a copy of one of Carole Marine’s daily paintings.

Copy (on ipad) after Carole Marine


Beside the photo presented in the challenge introduction, this is what inspired me: an abandoned white interior and high key white still lif.

Vinciane Lacroix, Abandoned Interior
Vinciane Lacoix, White Tableware
Vinciane Lacroix, Cup and Orchid

Go ahead!

Do the last two articles dedicated to the “white challenge” give you enough leads to explore this color?

Before writing them, I could not imagine the richness, let alone the palette of feelings that all these nuances could create. Of course, these subtle variations require a solid technique, but above all, beforehand, a fine observation.

Find the nuances that will express your temperament. And, like me, experiment.

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