SKIING IN COLOR
Artist LAMONT JOSEPH WHITE has climbed many mountains, personally and professionally, in his life, Here’s our exclusive look at his exciting new collection Skiing In Color.
When last we met you were a New York-based artist. How did you get into snow sports?
My reason was that I fell in love with Utah and the mountains. I fell in love with Park City specifically. My wife and I first visited in 2000 and continued to go back every year from 2000 to 2012 to ski and visit family. In 2012 we decided to see if we could live there or not. We ended up staying. We both enjoy the mountains and the lifestyle and the activities that go along with it. Our town in Park City has an extensive trail system. Just getting out in the first few minutes of walking on the trail makes you feel alive, you feel a change in your body. Your mood starts to lift and it’s a healthy lifestyle. It’s pretty special.
Is it more the mountains than the snow sports that sent you there?
My favorite things on the mountains are snowboarding, hiking and biking. I still skied in the Northeast, but Park City is the area I fell in love with and I felt that I could transition to the area. We kept thinking about transitioning west for several years. When our kids graduated high school, we didn’t need to stay in New Jersey any longer so we made the move in September, 2012.
Your absolutely wonderful project called Skiing In Color involves people of color skiing, which apparently is
something of a rarity. Let’s talk about what inspired the paintings.
My attraction to painting snow sports was for personal enjoyment… for the joy of being on the mountains. And, after many, many years of skiing you sort of take it for granted that there are not many people of color up there on the mountain but you just focus on your goals to improve and have fun. You do get some comments, some looks, nothing that’s overt, nothing that crosses the line to anything that gets dangerous or anything like that, thankfully. In this case, I wanted to highlight the awareness of us being an extreme minority on the slopes, a place I love to be.
I wanted to celebrate the blacks that are on the mountain but also invite those who are not there yet. With respect to the black and brown people you see in the collection it’s a celebration as well as an invitation. I’m happy that the celebration is appreciated by many. As for the invitation, I’m now part of a conversation to help improve the diversity and inclusion in the mountain spaces. The gap can be bridged if one desires the experience. Once you’ve had two or three experiences on the mountain you get hooked and you never want to turn back. That’s certainly been my experience.
I knew that while I was painting black skiers in a way, I was just painting skiers. But once leaders in the snow sports industry had seen my collection, I started hearing words like, it’s powerful and can you be on this panel or discussion group? I realized this conversation was part of a broader conversation going on. When I had some longtime skiers thank me for this representation, in a way my goal was reached because representation matters. People who are normally represented, they just take it for granted because they’re always there. But as black and brown people being a minority in the culture we push through, we do what we want to do but we are aware of the slightness of our representation. So, when it gets amplified that’s meaningful for people. It’s kind of like the saying, “if you can see it, you can be it”, whether it’s for an adult or child. That’s the sort of larger picture of the collection.
Last year, as the world became aware of Black Lives Matter, the George Floyd killing… the collection couldn’t be timelier. When did you start the paintings?
The paintings were begun in January 2020. They were unrelated to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. These tragic deaths all took place after I’d begun or conceptualized Skiing In Color. I just think that circles back to the fact that paintings that feature representation, inclusion and diversity are not trends. Highlighting them is an opportunity but it’s also an awareness that you have as a black- or brown-skinned person anyway. It does get mentioned to me that it’s very timely but the timing coincidentally lines up with the protests, with this sort of social awareness that’s going on across the country. It’s a double-edged sword because people are certainly more open to deeper understanding, to learn more about how black and brown people live, think, move and breathe in life, but at the same time there’s probably some people who don’t ask me those questions and assume I’m riding a racial awareness trend. And that’s fine if that’s the way they choose to think.
The worldwide interest in those events will expand the audience for your work.
In particular, in the ski industry, manufacturers, magazine publishers, non-profits, resorts and hotels, all these different types of organizations are now admitting that they could have done more, they just accepted that not many black and brown people were on the slopes. There have been times when the ski industry made marketing attempts to attract people of color but they’ve been short-lived. There’s been no persistence in it. We have to make it very intentional from here on to have more people of color on the slopes and not take our foot off the gas pedal. I’m now part of the Inclusion Committee at Ski Utah, which has been a great honor. My artwork will be featured in some resorts and museums in Utah. I’m getting calls from academies and non-profits that help kids to see themselves in these spaces. I’m proud of the non-profit opportunities as well. Thankfully, manufacturers are using me now to put people of color on their clothing, which feels good. I honestly didn’t see any of these opportunities coming. My paintings were initially a personally inspired project. Now, I’m hoping to make people feel invited, enlightened and represented.
Also, what began as Skiing In Color is broadening out into an out of doors theme. The outdoor spaces, in general, run across all the seasons. So, I’m actually going to be featuring some more warm weather sports: hiking, trail-running and things like that within my artwork. I love to hike and mountain bike as well, so who knows what will be created next. I think, you and I, Janet, we want to know what people want, particularly if it helps them, if it makes them feel good. What kind of clothing makes them feel good, what kind of patterns, what kind of fashion. That’s where we come from, commercially, and it all taps into the same source to uplift. Style or fashion, in a sense, is related to skin color because that’s something we wear at all times.
What are some of the things that have evolved or are evolving from the work, such as commercial projects and upcoming works? For example, you had mentioned Mount Noire…
Mount Noire is a group of five women skiers in London, five professional women who’ve been skiing for a number of years. We had already been following each other on Instagram. One day I got an email from CNN who wanted to interview me for an article.
CNN is international and this branch happened to be based out of London. Of course, I said sure, absolutely. The article was primarily about Mount Noire and they gave me a paragraph and a photograph for which I was very thankful for. At that point Mount Noire and I connected and we’re going to be doing some merchandise together. They’re looking to grow their brand and they are fantastic ladies. So, we’re pretty excited about that. I’ve got some other brands in the U.S. that are already established that I’m going to do some sublimation printed tops for. I’m also working with a journalist who’s written for Outside magazine and National Geographic. We’re going to be working and collaborating together featuring pioneers of color in the outdoor spaces. I’m working with some resorts that are going to be featuring my work. I’m having conversations with a major magazine in the snow sports industry that wants me to work on a feature article or cover, we haven’t determined yet. All these things are coming down the pike in 2021.
What other brands and organizations are interested in using your work?
I’ve been contacted by several brands, some are clothing brands, others are gear-oriented brands. Initially, clothing seems to be the first opportunities, but I’ve got some more gear-oriented brands, that sponsor professional athletes, and we’re thinking about ways that we can coordinate or include my artwork into those partnerships. In some cases, my fashion illustration skills are being utilized, so that’s exciting. So, style is very involved with the activity on the slopes and mountain spaces.
There’s a non-profit based in South Boston I’m speaking with of late. One of the things they do is bring inner city kids outdoors. I currently work with a non-profit called Hoods to Woods in Brooklyn, I have a piece of my artwork dedicated to them on the website and give a piece of the of the sales to them. The National Brotherhood of Skiers, another non-profit, they’ve been around since 1972. I’ve donated some artwork and merchandise, in this case tee-shirts, where a part of the sales goes to the NBS. Hoods
to Woods mentors through snowboarding to inner city kids. NBS mentors through snow sports and outdoor activities in general. One of their goals is to contribute to scholarships for young athletes who aspire to Olympics and international competitions. This
organization has been around for almost fifty years. I’m eager to partner with these non-profits who are already doing great work.
Your artwork is the right vehicle, there’s so much joy in it, so much positivity. That’s what’s so good about it.
Thank you. It’s all positive. My initial thought was black skiers, and what does that mean? It’s the joy, the exuberance, the excitement that I experience on the mountain. I want to be part of this conversation even if there’s just one person who finds it uplifting to see themselves represented. I go to the ski towns and see the employees, people on the slopes, artwork in the galleries and I just don’t see enough of diversity and inclusion. I’m just highlighting the joy and invitation to a phenomenal experience
where we are an extreme minority. I’m basically exposing something that I live with and as it turns out, others live withit, as well. You do get a bit of pushback, people who say, oh why are you bringing color into things? That’s to be expected and people have the right to feel that way. I just don’t. That’s not the life I live, I live a life where color does matter and like I say, it’s important to me that color is seen and celebrated. What I’ll say quite often is, see color, but it’s what we do with it that information that matters.
Let’s celebrate our differences… after all, that’s how we grow.
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