Susan Dorothea White

Susan Dorothea White (born 10 August 1941), also called Sue White and Susan White, is an Australian painter, sculptor, and printmaker. She is a narrative artist and her work concerns the natural world and human situation, increasingly incorporating satire and irony to convey her concern for human rights and equality. Her art is skill-based and multidisciplinary; she is the author of Draw Like Da Vinci (2006).

Education and early career

Born in Adelaide, South Australia, White grew up in the outback mining town of Broken Hill; her family supported and encouraged her artistic development. She started boarding school in Adelaide in 1954, returning home to Broken Hill during school vacations to paint and draw. White first exhibited in 1957; in 1958, while still at school, she began accepting commissions and attended Saturday drawing classes conducted by the artist James Cant in Adelaide. From 1959 to mid-1960, White was a prize-winning student in the Diploma of Fine Art program at the oldest public art school in Australia, the South Australian School of Art (SASA; see University of South Australia). At SASA White was initiated in art appreciation by Dora Chapman who taught her "a broad range of skills including perspective projection".[1] White also learnt lithography from Udo Sellbach. The Adelaide art critic Elizabeth Young described White’s work in the 1959 landmark exhibition Painters and Sculptors of Promise, organised by the Royal South Australian Society of Arts and opened by Don Dunstan, as "an able landscape impression".[2]

Known at this time as a landscape and portrait painter,[3] White was a regular prize-winner in the annual Broken Hill exhibitions from 1959 to 1962. With other prize-winning artists such as Florence May Harding, Pro Hart, and Sam Byrne, White was a foundation member of the Willyama Arts Society and participated in its Broken Hill and Adelaide exhibitions in 1961 and 1962. Her portrait of Mr. H.L.C. Cotton, father of the Australian senator Bob Cotton, was described as "strongly painted...outstanding".[4]

In July 1960 White moved to Sydney to continue full-time studies at the Julian Ashton Art School under its principal teacher Henry Gibbons. She also attended evening classes at the National Art School, in sculpture under Lyndon Dadswell and in drawing. White held her first solo exhibition in 1962 at age 20 at the Technical College in Broken Hill; this exhibition comprised 60 works and included oil and watercolour paintings, drawings, lithographs, and etchings. Praising the quality of her work, Harding wrote: "Bowing to no popular ism or formula except hard work, practice and observation, Susan White turned to our countryside with the fresh vision and vigor of youth. In her pictures it is all there – the red clay, erosion, bramble wattles bursting in bloom, the 'little creeks', big gums, struggling roots, wispy foliage, dry white grass, the silver sheen of the saltbush, dark rocky outcrops... Miss White's a must for all Broken Hill art lovers".[5] In 1963 the Sydney critic Daniel Thomas described her landscape painting as "good in its curious Victorian way".[6]


The artist's earliest paintings are mostly oils on composition board and watercolours. In the 1970s the artist changed from oils to the use of acrylics on wood panel. She developed skill in a painting technique "that produces nuance in colour and subtle gradations in tones. The basis of the method is the application of successive washes of acrylic colour to the wood with light sanding of the surface between each wash."[7] White's more recent paintings have been described as exploring "the most intimate experiences of her life, as well as more topical subjects, in meticulously limned acrylic paintings on wood panels. Her ability to examine unflinchingly such personal milestones as her surgery for a benign brain tumor with a dazed self-portrait in a vertiginously askew hospital setting results in some of the most emotionally jarring narrative imagery in recent art".[8] Some of White's acrylic paintings incorporate collage.

Her large tableau The First Supper, which was painted in 1988 at the time of the Australian Bicentenary, shows White's inventiveness and concern for human issues. Controversial in Australia,[9] the painting was exhibited in her solo exhibition in Amsterdam where it featured in the Dutch art journal Kunstbeeld: "The work shows clearly Susan White's thinking about human rights. It should be mentioned here that she sometimes places her many faceted talent at the service of the struggle for human rights".[10] Subsequently The First Supper was exhibited in a solo show in Cologne, in the Munich Volkshochschule and in other centres in Germany with media commenting " this portrayal Jesus is a woman, an Australian aboriginal. Her 'female disciples' are sitting to her right and left: women from all corners of the world..."[11] and "...the image generates intense discussion".[12] A 1994 American doctoral dissertation[13] and 1999 journal article[14] analyses The First Supper as "a subversive postmodern ironic reading of Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper".

Hieronymus Bosch is another artist who influences White's art - "She is also a strong social satirist, particularly in paintings such as The Crowning with Sexism, which combines iconographic images of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio with a composition borrowed from Hieronymus Bosch, as well as in other Boschian extravaganzas such as The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times and The Seven Deadly Isms. The latter work is mounted on a circular table and composed of several interconnecting compositions depicting such contemporary obsessions as Materialism and Workaholism in intricate figurative tableaux".[8]


White studied sculpture at the South Australian School of Art; subsequently she learnt from Lyndon Dadswell at the National Art School in Sydney. She works in sandstone, marble, wood carving, bronze, and mixed-media assemblage. Following her solo show in New York in 1998, the Hechinger Collection acquired White's mixed media assemblage It Cuts Both Ways (see External links), which was then displayed in a long-term exhibition at the National Building Museum.[15]

White exhibited bronzes in Geneva (1997) and Nice (2000), and mixed media assemblages in the Florence Biennale in 2001. In 2005 the Buhl Collection (New York) commissioned a large bronze sculpture Stretching the Imagination. Her mixed-media assemblages incorporate fabrics with the carving of rare Huon pine salvaged from Tasmania - "Susan Dorothea White's use of unusual materials such as endangered and recycled woods native to Australia contributes significantly to the effectiveness of her work...".[8]

Printmaking and drawing

As a printmaker White has produced etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, and linocuts since 1960. She prints her own work, with many early graphic works being pulled by hand using a wooden wringer. For example, the 1986 lithograph The Front Verandah (see External links), which comments on the Chernobyl disaster, incorporates plates for 15 colours. In its collection, the National Gallery of Australia holds 27 of the artist's prints produced between 1960 and 1996.[16] A catalogue of White's prints is published in The Printworld Directory.[17]

White is a skilled draughtswoman and drawing is the foundation of her art[1] - "Susan White is constantly sketching from everyday life and it is from the many sketchbooks that she first extracts the material for her compositions".[7] The media she uses for drawing include pen and ink, ballpoint, brush, crayon, chalk, pastel, conté, and charcoal. Recently she has experimented with mixed-media techniques in silverpoint and goldpoint, as well as drawing over inkjet prints. Between 1982 and 1989 White taught drawing in community classes and at evening colleges. In 2000 she co-established anatomy drawing workshops at the University of New South Wales (School of Medical Sciences). She gives occasional lectures in Anatomy Art and has made many drawings from anatomical specimens.[18]


In 2005 White wrote and illustrated Draw Like da Vinci. With over 150 images, the book explains the fundamental drawing principles used by Leonardo da Vinci, as well as his tools and techniques such as silverpoint. The book contains numerous projects for the reader to work through, such as drawing a 'sfumato tomato', portraiture, and drapery. The author analyses Leonardo's artworks including The Last Supper, Ginevra de' Benci, The Virgin of the Rocks, etc., and reveals the skills behind them. In 2007 the book was translated into French and published as Dessiner à la manière de Léonard da Vinci. The book has also been translated into Danish (Lær at tegne som Da Vinci) and Hungarian (Rajzoljunk úgy, mint Leonardo da Vinci). Reviews of the English version have appeared on[19] and in Artists & Illustrators.[20]


White began exhibiting in 1957 and held her first solo in 1962 (Broken Hill); significant solo shows include New York, Cologne, Amsterdam, Munich, Adelaide, Sydney. White has represented Australia in over 60 international biennales, triennales, etc. in US, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Brazil, China, Hungary, Poland, Canada, Yugoslavia, US, and UK.[3] She has also exhibited in group shows in Washington, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Berlin, Nice, New York, Amsterdam, and Geneva. Australian group exhibitions include the Wynne Prize, Sulman Prize, the Portia Geach Memorial Award, and the Blake Prize. A selection of significant exhibitions on White's website lists her participation in group shows, including the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1972 and 1978.


  1. 1 2 White, Susan Dorothea Draw Like Da Vinci, London: Cassell, 2006.
  2. Young, E. Sculpture Feature of Exhibition. The Advertiser, 28 October 1959.
  3. 1 2 McCulloch, Alan, McCulloch, Susan & McCulloch Childs, Emily (eds). The New McCulloch's Encyclopedia of Australian Art, 2006, Melbourne: Aus Art Editions, p. 1020.
  4. Harding, M. High Standard Art Show in Sturt Park. Barrier Miner, 21 November 1961.
  5. Harding, M. Successful Art Show by Young B. Hill Artist. The Barrier Miner, April. 28, 1962.
  6. Thomas, D. The week in art, The Sunday Telegraph, 3 March 1963, p.30.
  7. 1 2 Wernig, Anton. "Central theme is the human being" (translation), Galerie Arndt (Munich), July 1980.
  8. 1 2 3 Margolis, Andrew. White, Kahukiwa, & Hotz in lively shows at Montserrat, Gallery & Studio (New York), Nov/Dec. 1998, p.13.
  9. Allen, Christopher. 'Ludicrous Leonardo', The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 December 1988, p.10.
  10. Susan White - veelzijdig werk, Kunstbeeld (Amsterdam) October 1990, vol. 14 (10) p.62 (translation).
  11. ' Jüngerinnen' beim Abendmahl, Der Weg (Cologne) March 1991, vol. 14, p.14 (translation).
  12. Brumberg, Juliane. Abendmahl aus weiblicher Perspektive, Sonntagsblatt (Munich), 2 December 2001, p.22 (retrieved on 30 March 2009; translation).
  13. Shugart, Helene A. Postmodern irony as subversive rhetorical strategy, Western Journal of Communication, 63 (4), 1999, pp.433–455 (retrieved on 30 March 2009).
  14. Heavens, Alan J. Tool time sublime: Exhibit turns tools into creative jewels, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 29 March 2002 (retrieved on 30 March 2009).
  15. National Gallery of Australia. Australian Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books: WHITE, Susan Dorothea (retrieved on 30 March 2009).
  16. Smith, Selma (ed). The Printworld Directory, 11th ed, 2006, West Chester: Printworld, pp.1214–5.
  17. (retrieved 16 December 2011).
  18. Boddy-Evans, Marion. Draw Like Da Vinci by Susan Dorothea White August 2006 (retrieved on 30 March 2009).
  19. Wood, Jacky. Mastering the essentials. Artists & Illustrators, June 2006, p.38.

External links

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