Wayne White might possibly be one of the most versatile and celebrated artists of our time. Mention his name at swanky parties in New York or L.A. and you’ll invite accolades over his brand of innovative “word paintings” combining found art with a modern, Southern twist.
Speak of him among entertainment critics and you may just hear about his award-winning work on Pee Wee’s Playhouse and several music videos (back when MTV still played music videos).
But sadly, if you utter his name right here in White’s hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee you’ll likely be met with a response of “who?”
Seems even though Wayne White is considered creative royalty in places on the cutting edge of modern art, with pieces displayed in galleries, museums and even the living rooms of famous hip people across the country, you can’t find one inkling of his work around here.
Not one of our downtown’s many, many outdoor sculptures bears his name, even though he’s famous worldwide for installations of wacky, thought-provoking 3D pieces, including a room size exhibit at Rice University in Houston, Texas. There isn’t a single one of his paintings or puppets displayed in the Hunter Museum of American Art, although his work was recently the focus of a major exhibit at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia. And if that’s not enough, there isn’t even a tiny plaque commemorating his legacy at his alma mater of Hixson High School, even though he still ends conversations during his brief visits back home with “Go Wildcats.”
“I had to leave Chattanooga to be the artist I wanted to be,” said White in a recent phone interview. “I had to leave Chattanooga to be the artist I wanted to be,” said White in a recent phone interview. “This was not the place to be for an artist in the mid-seventies. I had to forsake my hometown in order to not be embarrassed about the beauty I was creating.”
Beauty Is Embarrassing is a new documentary about Wayne White’s life and work. Currently opening in theaters around the country after receiving successful nods at SXSW in Austin and the Toronto Film Festival, as well as “Best Documentary” awards at the Nashville Film Festival and the nationally renowned Cleveland Film Festival. In fact, just so his hometown friends, fans and family could see the film on the big screen, White is premiering the film in Chattanooga right along with stints in just about every major city in America.
Therefore, Beauty Is Embarrassing will be featured at the Carmike Wynnsong 10 cinema this weekend, October 12-14th, with a special Q&A featuring White himself after the showing on Saturday, October 13th.
The documentary chronicles White’s unique Southern upbringing, which is the inspiration for his art, the struggles he’s encountered throughout his career, and what makes him one of America’s most important artists today. In fact, contemporary artists of note praising White in the film include heavy hitters such as DEVO’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Paul Reubens, and designer Todd Oldham, who helped White assemble a substantial coffee table book of his work titled Maybe Now I’ll Get The Respect I So Richly Deserve in 2009.
The massive 382-page book features hundreds of images from Wayne’s earliest work as an illustrator all the way up to his most recent fine art and sculptures. Since the book’s release, White has been traveling the country delivering incredibly enlightening hour-long talks where he discusses his life and work, and makes time for a little banjo and harmonica playing.
The newly released film version of the book and those highly entertaining presentations, Beauty Is Embarrassing, chronicles White’s childhood in Chattanooga soaking up Southern culture, his college years at Middle Tennessee State University learning how to apply his inspiration artistically, and his post-graduation jaunt to New York to start his career as an illustrator for the East Village Eye, New York Times, Raw Magazine and the Village Voice. The film explores White’s rise to prominence, the tolls of being in high demand, and how he’s come to find a balance between a bill-paying career and everyday life.