“Like everybody, I’m just striving for that ‘f-you money’,” White says in the documentary. “You know, if you get enough money, you can say ‘f-you’ and do what you want instead of worrying about producing art just to pay bills.”
Narrated by White, the film details his fateful partnership with Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) in 1986 to help create the set design and puppets for the hit television show Pee Wee’s Playhouse, which earned White three Emmy awards.
White and wife Mimi Pond relocated to Los Angeles for the show’s last few seasons, where they still reside today with their two grown children. After Playhouse ended due in part to Rueben’s’ unfortunate brush with the law in 1990, White continued creating set designs and characters for television shows such as Beakman’s World, Riders in the Sky, and Bill & Willis. White was also tapped to art direct a few music videos, including the Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight and Peter Gabriel’s Big Time, both of which earned him Billboard and MTV Music Video Awards.
Over the years White has also received great praise for his room size 3D installations including Big ‘Lectric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep – featuring the world’s largest puppet head of George Jones lying on its side in peaceful slumber as whiffs of Jack Daniels emit from its snoring mouth. And, more recently, White took over a large portion of the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia for what he calls an “explosive motif” of “cartoony expressionism” in an exhibit titled BIG LICK BOOM which gives tribute to Roanoke’s transformation from a little town called Big Lick, Virginia into a boomtown during the height of railroad expansion in the late 1800’s.
White has continued incorporating his humorous visual imagery into video formats, including television advertising campaigns for Snapple and Old Spice. The Snapple ad series features its products’ bottles personified in puppet form, as a boy band, skateboarding, break dancing and head banging among other things. And, you may remember the Old Spice spot, where a wise pitchman is pontificating about “how much is enough” as he walks through a room with a seemingly never ending painting of a ship created by White.
Maybe this gig inspired White in some way, because for the past several years his focus has been renewed on painting. Trips to thrift stores to buy old cheesy landscape reproductions just for the frames turned into a new creative direction – painstakingly incorporating three-dimensional text into the existing paintings.
Adding a sense of humor to the sensibility of Southernisms, White’s “word paintings” feature Escher-style lettering stating such off the wall phrases as “NASCAR Sugar Tits,” “Fanfuckingtastic,” and “You’re boring the shit out of me” among many, many others. And, much to White’s pleasant surprise, West Coast art critics and gallery owners took to his uncanny style with enthusiastic fervor.
“I was amazed at the reception these paintings received, both from admirers to actual buyers and collectors. It made me feel really good to be recognized for yet another medium besides puppeteering and illustration,” White said. “Finally, in my mid 40’s I was able to focus on the painting career I always wanted. It was a long time coming.”
Speaking of a long time coming, White is finally being recognized right here in his hometown. With the help of the Shaking Ray Levi Society, he’s in negotiations with Chattanooga city officials and private investors to have a large-scale outdoor sculpture of one of his word paintings permanently on display along the Riverwalk.
“The greatest compliment I ever received was when my first grade teacher, Mrs. Stoddard at Hixson Elementary, told the whole class that she knew I was going to be an artist someday,” White said. “And now that this city has grown to embrace art and local artists like me it’s very inspiring, which brings me to the second greatest compliment I ever receive – when someone tells me that I’ve inspired them. That’s what it’s all about.”
BEAUTY IS EMBARRASING
Film website: beautyisembarrassing.com
Oct. 11-Oct. 13
Showtime for each day is 6:50 p.m.
Carmike Wynnsong 8
Wayne White will be in attendance for a Q&A session at the Oct. 12 and Oct. 13 screening of the film.