A while back I posted a shark painting from Dave White’s Apex series, but today I went to see White’s show at the Gusford Gallery on Melrose in Los Angeles. White’s 12 oil paintings of white sharks in motion are the most dynamic, beautiful and haunting shark images I’ve ever seen. Maybe it has something to do with his use of color (the purple stains that evoke both bruises and the color of the cosmos), but in “Apex,” White has tapped into that eerie eternally shape-shfting beauty and horror, grace and force that is the great white shark.
Each one of White’s numbered fish (“Apex l-XIII”) has a specific presence, personality and gravity. Like their real-life counterparts, they are perfectly, serenely adapted to their element. Composed of light and dark blues and purples, with energetic brushwork and blobs of black and white, the texture is thick when evoking the mass of the animal that has been alternately described as a “tank,” “freight train,” “submarine” and “bus.” But this heavy color is often balanced by a thin sheen near the gills and along the back that evokes both the massive shark’s surprising elegance and light filtered through the ocean’s surface.
Up close the skin of these sharks comes alive with a fury of thin lines, swipes, surprising dots and splatters that recall the chaotic scratches and battle scars that mark shark snouts in the wild. Each shark bears a unique mouth. “Apex V,” for example, has a grinning of unsettling pink maw somewhere between bubblegum and flesh. Michelle Schultz, Gusford Gallery’s warm and helpful director told me that patrons had dubbed “Apex V” the “Finding Nemo shark” on account of his smile. “Apex VII” and “Apex X” (shown above) have gobs that look like microcosms of the sea itself, the teeth like frantic white caps or the sails of doomed vessels. And the eyes! Ringed with half circles of lavender, or a hair-thin line of white, these aren’t the “lifeless doll’s eyes” of Quint, but orbs animated by a much more enigmatic intelligence that marine biologists have struggled to define.
Perhaps because “Apex XI” has blue and white skin like the Milky Way, I imagined sleeping on the gallery floor with all of these sharks floating above, their long drips of color seeping into my dreams.
“Apex” ends June 21, so if you’re in the Los Angeles area go, go! And if you’re not near L.A., it’s worth a pilgrimage, not just for shark lovers but for anyone who enjoys great painting.