In the Studio with Zemma Mastin White

January 11, 2023

Painter and printmaker Zemma Mastin White virtually sat down with us to discuss her creative process, what inspires her as an artist, and what motivated her to pursue studio art in the first place. Approaching her work from a formalist perspective, Mastin White explores the relationship between shapes and colors. She uses mixed media such as Cray-Pas, graphite, and acrylic paint to create different patterns and textures through layers of mark making.

CBCA: What’s your background? Did you always want to be an artist?

ZMW: Yes, I always wanted to be an artist.

I graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, where I studied Graphic Design, painting and drawing. I had the privilege of working with Anne Truitt, David Driskel and Sam Gilliam all affiliated with the Washington Color School. This school used color, and not drawing to create and delineate simple geometric forms. This education made a huge impact on me and my visual development and continues to play a part in my journey as an artist.

My first job was at an Advertising Agency. I moved on to become an assistant art director in Lord & Taylor’s Advertising Department in New York City. I worked on special projects and the promotional campaigns out of the New York Store. I then did freelance illustration and logo design. Ultimately, I wanted to pursue painting and printmaking full time. I realized that graphic design and fine arts have a wonderful interchange, both disciplines require problem solving. In the graphic design world you have specific restraints, and parameters that are client driven. In developing a work of art, I make my own parameters. The process is more intuitive.

CBCA: What excites you to make your work? Why do you make art?

ZMW: Whether I am making a print or a painting the continuous voice in my work is a provocative mixture of color, form, texture, and mark making. As I develop layers using this matrix, intriguing patterns and textures emerge yielding a richness and depth to the surface.

The ultimate meaning of an abstract artwork is to be found in its shapes, colors, and lines, and through the acceptance that, according to Rothko, “art is an adventure into an unknown world.” 

I cannot not make art. It is like breathing. Creating art is euphoric. I have to make art; it is my passion.

I think Georgia O’Keeffe says it best when she says…. ”I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way- things that I had no words for. “

CBCA: What informs your work? What themes do you pursue?

ZMW: I approach my work from a formalist perspective to explore the relationships between shapes and colors for their own sake rather than for what they may represent. I layer line, color, and forms to create different patterns and textures through layers of mark making. In particular, I am influenced by urban patterns such as subway grates, tree skeletons, skylines, and buildings. This attention to the texture and order of urban spaces is reflected in my work, with grid-like compositions, cacophonous patterns, in both muted and colorful pallets.

CBCA: How do you begin a work? Do you research? If so, how?

ZMW: I generally work on 2-3 pieces at a time. I have an idea or point of departure, then the  process becomes a journey, I start in one direction, one layer informs another and a wonderful exchange begins to happen. Typically one piece moves forward and then the others follow.

Zemma Mastin White
Zemma Mastin White
Zemma Mastin White
Zemma Mastin White
Zemma Mastin White
Zemma Mastin White