I'd been given that advice half a dozen times before. I saw the works in question. Joseph White is 36. He's not a local artist - he now lived in New York, he's earned a reputation here as a painter's painter. Weeks before it opened his exhibition at Jane Haslem's, 2121 P ST.NW, was one of the most talked about one-man shows in town.
The excitement is understandable. Joe White's work has changed. He used to paint abstractions, now he paints the real. The pictures on display present an unexpected synthesis of new and older art.
Like other painters of his age, White grew up with abstract art. The heroes of his youth were paintings who had fled from oils and the figure and the oppression of tradition. Rare indeed was the artist who moved the other way.
White has done just that, There are landscapes in his show, and still lifes, and extraordinary portraits. Yet nothing here seems retrogressive. Instead, these pictures seem part of a continuum that indicates the future while acknowledging the past.
Technically these works are flawless. The images he paints - of gardens, swimming pools and kangaroos, Connecticut Avenue monuments, cloud-filled skies, museums - have surfaces as smooth as silk. White will mix as many as 90 different colors for a single painting and he works with oil paint.
There is something both of Europe and of '60s California, in the works on view. Oil is an ancient medium, but White uses it to paint forms as smooth and shiny as the fenders of the most extravagant West Coast custom cars.
His scale is are remarkable. Most of the works on view are three or four feet square. By contemporary standards that isn't very bog, but these pictures have enormous presence. They devour walls.
But the oddest thing about them is their disturbing mix of strangeness and refinement, No errors mark these pictures. Everything seems polished and entirely intentional. Then what is it about them that makes them seem so weird? Even when he paints buildings one has seen or faces one knows well, nothing that he shows us seems familiar. The answer is, I think, that no other artist sees the way he sees. Or uses such peculiar colors. His colors are most finely tuned. His trees are green, a hundred greens, but I have never seen such trees, and his water is transparent, but there are colors in its clearness.
It is his masterly of subtle, and occasionally outrageous color that has made him such a favorite among the painter of this city. Washington's Jim Tanner, hung the works at Haslem's. The show is impressive, and thoroughly professional.
Go see the new Joe Whites.