Billy White

Making music, symphonic & Black

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oregon Symphony picks a new leader; we begin a Black-music column; finale for Fertile Ground

THE BIG NEWS IN OREGON ARTS THIS WEEK WAS VERY BIG: The Oregon Symphony has picked its new music director. The Austrian conductor David Dansmayr will assume the artistic post at Oregon’s largest musical organization for the 2021/22 season, becoming only the third musical director for the symphony since 1980. He’ll replace Carlos Kalmar, who led the orchestra from 2003 until this season; Kalmar replaced James DePriest, who had held the top job for 23 years. 
 

The Austrian conductor David Dansmayr takes over the top artistic spot at the Oregon Symphony. Photo courtesy Oregon Symphony Orchestra.

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Story fragments in paint and collage

Bill Traylor and Billy White may seem like an odd exhibition pairing at first blush but both artists captivate viewers with keenly observed figures that beg imagined narratives.

Billy White, Untitled (2018). Acrylic on canvas. 30″ x 28″. Image courtesy Adams and Ollman.

Some artists are natural storytellers. Their works transcend the gallery space; one can imagine their painted figures swaying in an 80s nightclub or strolling to the market hundreds of years ago. Storytelling artworks prompt questions about the figures’ time and space. Who are these people? What do they love? What problems do they face? 

Billy White and Bill Traylor are both artist-storytellers, building distinctive narratives through their prolific art practices. Billy White takes a bold and emotional approach, using thick planes of acrylic paint to form raw portraits of isolated characters. Bill Traylor works smaller, using discarded materials to create a visual record of his surroundings in Jim Crow-era America. Both artists pulled from radically different life experiences to inform their works shown at Adams and Ollman, but they find common ground in their uniquely honest depictions of the human experience.

Works by Bill Traylor and Billy White. Image courtesy Adams and Ollman.

Nurturing Independence Through Artistic Development (NIAD), a progressive art studio in Richmond, California, supports the careers of artists with disabilities. Billy White, a Black artist in his mid-50s, has worked in the NIAD studio for 26 years. White’s traumatic brain injury, caused by an automobile accident in childhood, informs his affinity for Van Gogh; he feels they’ve faced comparable hardships. Despite his setbacks, White now has dozens of exhibitions under his belt. That artistic confidence comes across clearly in his series of eight untitled paintings at Adams and Ollman. 

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