COULDA-SHOULDA-WOULDA: Joey Veltkamp In the Studio with Whiting Tennis

A mid-career artist who shows with Derek Eller and Greg Kucera, Whiting Tennis was kind enough to spare a couple of hours to show me what he's been working on lately, and I stopped by his North Seattle home and studio last week.

As we opened a couple of tall boys, Whiting began talking about what's on his mind, and what he'd like most right now is time and lots of it. He explained that he's got three months to prepare for a big Fall show at the Tang Museum. Tennis has tons of great ideas but worries about having enough hours to execute each of them. Like many artists, when pushing in new directions, doubt can creep in. One might think, "Will this work? Is this any good?" I'm a bit more confident in Tennis—I predict his solo show for the Tang, Opener 22: Whiting Tennis, will be one of his best shows yet.  —Joey Veltkamp, Seattle contributor

Whiting Tennis. TOP: Blue Hamburger, 2007 | Acrylic and collage on canvas, 90 x 56 inches. Courtesy Derek Eller Gallery, New York, and the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY. BOTTOM: Studio shot, Photo: Joey Veltkamp.

Whiting Tennis has long been a favorite of the Northwest. When describing his work, terms like 'weathered' and 'dilapidated' frequently come to mind. His collages are full of trees, wood, tarps and odd, decrepit structures that act as crude stand-ins for people. His work is humble, never boastful. It almost says indifferently, “Look at me...or don't.” It's certainly contemporary, but has an air of nostalgia floating around it, and Whiting's paintings and sculptures loosely reference the shapes and forms of Philip Guston along with the cubism of Picasso.

Whiting Tennis. TOP: MASTODON, 2010 | Acrylic and collage on canvas, 46 x 65 inches. Courtesy the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle. BOTTOM: COULDA-SHOULDA-WOULDA, 2009 | Mixed media, 44 x 73 x 5 inches. Courtesy of artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle.

He's not constrained to one artistic practice. Sculpture, painting, collage and drawing are all central to his work. Lately, his collages (like Mastadon, 2010, shown above) have been extraordinary. Made with layers of patterned paper, the images subtly illustrate nature's indifference to human encroachment. While admiring a tree on a piece of paper, Whiting took a minute and showed me how he's able to create the different 'barks' he uses in his compositions.

Photos: Joey Veltkamp

Inspiration comes most frequently from his constant doodling. In our visit, he opened up a cupboard and pulled out stacks of sketchbooks. Flipping through them, he'd point out a few that were made into paintings or sculptures. One of them — a beautiful collage with mid-century overtones — will make its way to Skidmore this fall in the form of a painting. Some are extremely literal, others are harder to recognize. There's a sense of history—and more abstractly, biology—in his work.

To roughly paraphrase Whiting, we only get one life and we have a limited amount of time to make the things we want to. Thankfully for us, he's making the most of that time.

Opener 22: Whiting Tennis will be on view at the Tang Museum from September 3 - December 30, 2011. 

Joey Veltkamp is an artist/writer living in Seattle where he runs the local art blog, best of.

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