Artist In Residence

From multimedia art and furniture design to launching an in-demand events venue, Bridgeport artist Lonney White is one to watch.

By Elise Hofer Shaw

Photos by James Gustin for Fig Media

March 25, 2019 10:00 AM

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Artist Lonney White loves balance. And minimalism and order. “I’m constantly thinking about depth, composition, texture and the use of light,” he admits during our tour of his 7,800-square-foot live/work studio in Bridgeport. The space emotes strength courtesy of its industrial bones yet oozes elegance thanks to its open, monochromatic design. In fact, the only things that haven’t been carefully curated and put in their place are the two Brussels Griffons, Lulu and Lala, that loyally follow White around from his studio to the gallery to the offices, all of which he shares with his partner, interior designer Lukas Machnik. A dream pop ballad by Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li is playing softly in the background. It’s an unmistakable—and intentional—vibe, and modern to the core.

“It was really about seeking out a building that could house our work and be a showroom, where we could also live and entertain clients,” says White, who closed on the building in 2015, christening it LW Studio. “We knew it had to be a space with mega square footage, and we wanted an outdoor space for building frames and structures—and, of course, for the dogs.” White, 36, spent the better part of the last three years building out the space with Machnik (the founder of Chicago-based Lucas Machnik Design and the maverick designer who won the Nate Berkus-hosted NBC reality show American Dream Builders in 2014). They did the majority of the construction and finishes themselves. White took on the metal- and woodworking—think massive Venetian plaster and patinated steel sliding doors, and farm tables stained jet black—while Machnik handled the interior design. He appointed the space with significant statement pieces like a 10-foot modular black leather sofa by White, stools and vessels from Rick Owens Furniture, and antiques and ancient pottery from sourcing trips to Marrakech, Paris and, most recently, Japan. Although, it’s all constantly being rotated in and out depending on how the pair choose to define and decorate the open-concept floor plan on any given day. 

But it’s White’s artwork that steals the show, in particular a 17-by-12-foot black, gray and ivory encaustic wax-on-canvas piece that’s hanging on the main room’s soaring south wall. While the scale of his paintings will stop you in your tracks, it’s the hypnotizing textures that draw you in like a Rorschach test. This painting is from White’s ongoing Metamorphic series that was born out of his fascination with finding new ways for materials to express themselves. “Like any series I work on, it all starts with experimentation and trying to discover something new with a material through process,” explains White, who cites the work of avant-garde artist/designer/architect Vincenzo De Cotiis and minimalist interior designer Axel Vervoordt as constant sources of inspiration. “For Metamorphic, I started playing with the materials as if I had never met them before, manipulating the beeswax and tree resin with different heat sources for different effects, to move the materials almost like with an airbrush, and the process revealed itself to me. When you fight against the process or the material, it’s never right.”

But White, as it turns out, is quite the enigmatic artist. In addition to experimenting with encaustic waxes, he frequently works with metal alloys, bronze and steel, as well as felt and wood. His globulous, suspended bronze sculptures and installation pieces are also tastefully peppered throughout the gallery. And he’s currently hard at work on a furniture series, a collection of highly sculptural, hand-smithed bronze and scorched-ash wood chairs that he hopes to release this fall. “The common thread is that I never force the materials to do something they would have an aversion to,” says White, referencing how the waxes bleed across the canvas. “I want the material to react as it would naturally. It excites me not knowing what to expect from the process—the materials then have a kind of honesty. Intuition, composition and scale are my limits of control.”

Born and raised in Billings, Montana, White moved to Missoula shortly after high school, where he studied sculpture and foundry at Missoula College. It was there that he met and apprenticed under designer Ty Best of CASTE Design. “My grandmother on my father’s side drew and painted, and fostered my artistic interests from a very young age,” says White. “But it was Best who gave me a higher education in refined sensibilities.” In 2008, White made the move to Chicago to study interior architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. That same year he introduced himself to Machnik at a gallery opening for CASTE—and they’ve been collaborators in life and art ever since.

Last year, the majority of White and Machnik’s energy and art went into a collaboration with beloved Chicago interior designer Michael Del Piero. For the new shop Michael Del Piero Good Design Hamptons with Lucas Machnik (MDPGDH, for short) in Wainscott, East Hampton—White is a co-owner—the duo manned the renovation and buildout of the barn turned 3,700-square-foot bi-level retail space and interior design studio, while Machnik and Del Piero curated the collections (hamptonsgooddesign.com). “We opened with my Metamorphic series,” says White, who plans to make frequent trips to Wainscott for work—and some much-deserved downtime. “And this spring I will be hanging my new 3-D wax encaustics series that I’m working on now. I’m excited to see how these raw pieces will complement Michael’s earthy, textural vibe.” 

But back at home in Bridgeport, for the time being, White is determined to hunker down. He’s currently working on a commission for a private client in the Hamptons, new pieces for Holly Hunt’s showrooms, and that aforementioned collection that he plans to install at MDPGDH this month. He’s also managing bookings for LW Studio as a design-forward events venue. Complete with a chef’s kitchen boasting black leathered-granite countertops, a concealed catering space, a 46-foot dining table that seats 50 comfortably (capacity is 100 people for standing events) and 30 feet of accordion windows that open onto the lush outdoor space, it’s already in high demand. Recent bookings include a private collector’s dinner for Carpenters Workshop Gallery, a Vic Mensa listening party hosted by Kitchen Toke magazine, a Holly Hunt photo shoot and a baby shower for Michael Jordan’s daughter.

After spending several hours at LW Studio, it’s clear that the beauty of it all is how White blurs the lines between art, architecture and interior design. “It’s a common vocabulary,” adds White. “Art, design and architecture can—and should—be breathed in the same breath. This space, its design, my art… there’s honesty, integrity and beauty in the simplicity. Nothing is concealed or covered up. And it’s that integrity and honesty that translates into what is truly luxury—the luxury to enjoy moments that are special with your family and friends surrounded by beauty that enriches the experience.” Well said, indeed. 

LW Studio, 3845 S. Winchester Ave., 312.810.1011. lonneywhite.com

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Artist Lonney White
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“Untitled” encaustic painting from the Metamorphic series (11’7″ x 4’4″ with steel frame), price and commission upon request at lonneywhite.com.