Painter Victoria White’s Unexpected Trajectory Is Proof That Life Sometimes Has Other Plans
- Written byQuinn Roberts
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
Victoria White walked into Resin Gallery in Hermosa Beach with paint splattered across her clothes and traces of white paint on her hands. She’d spent a long day at her studio in Santa Monica and was now ready to volunteer with students as part of Indivisible Arts.
The students are immediately drawn to her energy and devotion to her craft. Victoria lives life with intention, writing in a journal every morning after she wakes up—sometimes for a few hours. It’s her way of getting all of her thoughts out so she can be completely present and focused on painting her subjects.
“Inspiration is the beginning, middle and end,” she says. “I find that I am most inspired—and my work is the most authentic—when I am connecting with people through service. I feel so good and connected to the world. That is the most important thing I do to prepare to make my artwork.”
Victoria’s path to becoming an artist has been anything but ordinary. She was a successful lawyer, working long hours in Silicon Valley before moving back to her hometown of New Orleans to practice law. She describes herself then as the stereotypical lawyer—the job and atmosphere like the television show Suits.
Then unexpectedly she became so ill she was forced to resign from the firm in 2017. It got so bad, she didn’t even have the energy to walk around the neighborhood where she lived.
After seeing doctor after doctor, Victoria finally got a diagnosis. She had been exposed to black mold at her job in New Orleans. While it was a relief to finally have answers, exposure to black mold has no cure or timetable for how long it will take to recover. Victoria continued to have severe symptoms of fatigue, pain and memory loss.
Hoping for a fresh start, she decided to move west after falling in love with Los Angeles and the coast—in the hopes of getting better treatment and a quicker recovery. “I got in my white BMW convertible with a friend, my French bulldog, a box of paints and a suitcase of clothes in 2018 to start a new life,” she shares.
“You’d think people would want to see a perfect person, but people actually enjoy the intricate lines in her face and are more fascinated by it.”
She’d always painted as a hobby, but it wasn’t until 2019, as she was still undergoing medical treatment, that Victoria received a commission to paint portraits of her friend’s three sons. Looking for inspiration, she went to The Broad museum and observed art by Mark Tansey, a painter of monochromatic landscapes. She decided to paint a portrait of surfer Bert Burger in only two colors, blue and white, and see how it would come out.
“People think about making a big splash, but you can make a big impact in a one-on-one transaction and really make a difference for one person,” she says. “That’s one aspect of my painting.”
Victoria makes her own paint using walnut oil. She does this not only to preserve the integrity of the whites and allow for a slower process but also to honor her health history and steer clear of potential toxins.
She has evolved from painting portraits of familiar faces to those of people she loves and admires. Some have described her as a method actor of painting. Before putting paint to canvas and other mediums, Victoria will read books, watch movies and do anything else to learn about the person’s life.
The first person she tackled with this process was Lil Wayne, also from New Orleans. She had seen him perform over two decades back home and took time to read his journals from when he was in jail.
Victoria often paints on 5- or 6-foot stretched canvases, Arches paper, wood boards or loose canvases, which allows for larger-than-life portraits and more freedom to include intricate details. Mother Teresa, B.B. King and Clint Eastwood are some of the most challenging subjects she’s painted. She captures every wrinkle and pore to make it as authentic as possible.
“People seem to enjoy the Mother Teresa painting the most,” says Victoria. “You’d think people would want to see a perfect person, but people actually enjoy the intricate lines in her face and are more fascinated by it.”
While she’s painted musicians and actors and world leaders, Muhammad Ali is her all-time favorite. “He is one of the most imperfect people, but he could powerfully manifest making anything you believe in a reality. He understood that power more than anyone,” she says.
Victoria has done some 4-foot paintings in as quick as five or six days, but her portrait of Jim Morrison took over a year. The largest portrait she’s painted is the 12-foot mural of Ali.
Victoria gets inspiration for choosing subjects from anything or anyone. In 2019 someone told her she should paint Tupac Shakur. But it wasn’t until two years later, when she went to a guitar store and saw a picture of Tupac praying, that she picked up her paints and put him on canvas.
“She’s not painting the celebrity; she is painting the soul. She immerses herself in each subject,” says Rafael McMaster, founder of the South Bay Artist Collective and Resin Gallery. “If Jimi Hendrix’s soul is hanging around, he surely is cosigning this.”
Recently Victoria began incorporating sayings or words that directly reflect her subject. She’s also added translucent, reflective plastics over the artwork to give it a new dimension of pop.
Her recent exhibit at Resin Gallery, I CAME TO LIVE OUT LOUD, filled the room with 36 pieces and one exciting twist. On each side of a piano cover, Victoria painted two different images of Elton John. It was the first time she’d ever done anything of that style.
Leading up to the exhibit, Rafael admitted that it was the most excited he had ever been about a solo show at the gallery, especially because it was Victoria’s first solo show. He knows her star is only going to get brighter and sees it as an honor for Indivisible Arts to be at the beginning of it all.
“She represents a bright, new generation of artists that will be a part of something special here,” he says. “Something is brewing beneath the surface, and she is going to be at the tip of the sphere.”
While Rafael and Victoria have known each other for about a year, it’s as if they’ve been friends for decades. Not only does Victoria volunteer at Indivisible Arts, she also volunteers at Richstone Family Center and Da Vinci RISE High School. Other than Rafael, she likely volunteers and teaches more than any other artist in the South Bay Artist Collective.
“Rarely do you meet someone and realize immediately that this is a special person,” adds Rafael. “Victoria is that special person who is so grounded and humble that her natural perspective and inclination is to take that brightness and give it to others. It is super rare to see someone so effectively take their passion of philosophy and art and fuse that together seamlessly into a lifestyle and presentation of self as she does.”
After struggling with her health for so many years, Victoria says she’s turned a corner and is starting to feel like herself again—both physically and emotionally.
“As hard as it was to live through these last 10 years being so ill, I am so grateful,” Victoria says. “God had a different plan for me. If that hadn’t happened exactly when it happened, I would not be here today. I would have it no other way.”