I am bringing your attention to a documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing, that
deeply inspired me after a screening last week. The life wisdom and positive
philosophy unfolding over a lifetime of living as an artist was deeply motivating.
I invited Wayne White, the subject of this documentary, to join deviantART afterwards.
I thought this would be something you would enjoy no matter where you might be at
on your own personal journey as an artist. While watching this I was also reminded
of the heartfelt explanations by many artists of what it means to choose the life of an Artist.
"Do what you love, It's going to lead where you want to go."
Please stop and say hello and welcome seewaynewhite in his first week at deviantART.
A strange thing happened at a local café called Fred 62, a sudden sense of something
askew in the universe. I realized it was the painting hanging on the wall above my friend’s
head. Could that really be the mundane landscape painting that hung on the wall in one of
the rooms in my child hood home? Why yes, it is. But the painting has been … infiltrated.
Geometric shapes now hung in the air above the autumnal scud of fallen leaves. Then you get
it: the shapes are actual words. The painting is protesting its near-purposeless existence
by breaking the fourth wall and “speaking” to me. And it’s saying: FoodBasedLifestyleEnhancement –
which is really funny, given the theatre of this moment. What is this? Graffiti? Tagging?
Wayne calls his word paintings and his other creations his “beautiful things” and he exhorts
other artists to ignore the pull of “seriousness” (in hopes of being officially declared “real”)
and instead be guided by what brings them joy to create, to do whatever it is creatively that
makes them happy. Fun and funny shouldn’t be anathema to the “serious artist” – the moment of
laughing at a joke one isn’t even sure one really understands… that should be the most sacred
What I unknowingly discovered is Wayne White’s “word paintings.” Wayne “samples” (buys) otherwise
pointless examples of forgettable paintings, mostly landscapes, and then he paints his messages across
them like billboard credits kicking off a movie. His messages tend to be funny, sometimes deeply poignant
and are often slightly obscene. Not that pure juvenile silliness isn’t his guiding principle. The official
art world doesn’t quite know what to make of Wayne’s increasing popularity and the success he’s experiencing
after a lifetime of being a “jack-of-all-trades” artist. They’ve hung a general “surrealist/pop artist”
label on him and dismissed him as a “non-serious Ed Ruscha.” But Wayne White’s art, funny and silly and profane
as it might be, is far from being a joke. He’s a man and an artist on a mission.
If your first experience of Wayne’s art is his “word paintings,” then you’ve come in late to an amazingly
multifaceted and storied adventure that has been his creative life. It’s a life now documented in a new film,
"Beauty is Embarrassing," which every creative person will enjoy immeasurably and will provide every person seeking
the secret to “what makes the artist tick” with palpable insights. His journey has been as long, oblique and
serendipitous as only a lifelong muse-driven pure artist’s journey can be. Wayne left his home in Tennessee to become
a cartoonist and illustrator for some of the hippest pop-art-laden publications of the day, like The Village Voice.
He then became one of the driving creative forces on the now legendary Pee Wee Herman Show, creating props and puppets
and performing voices. He won three Emmy Awards. His puppetry and art direction talents earned him awards for music
videos as well, including Peter Gabriel’s Big Time and the Smashing Pumpkins’ amazing George Melies-inspired Tonight,
Tonight. But it’s his word paintings that are finally making his name known. Are they “real” art? Or is this some kind
of a joke? It’s Wayne’s mission in life as an artist to address this endlessly-arising “question” so vital to
conversations concerning "high art."
An Interview withWayne White
Your “word paintings” “sample” pre-existing paintings of kitschy landscapes (i.e., depressing Americana memes).
Do you feel a kinship with early rappers who reinvented music in a similar way, sampling tapes in bargain bins?
Not really. Even though there is a similar aesthetic of recycling. I've recycled junks since the 70's... way before
rap came along. But like rappers I do feel like i'm collaborating with the original artist and harmonizing with the work.
In what ways have your non-fans in the official art world sought to delegitimize your art and your very status
as an artist? They seem to believe that as an artist provocateur injecting humor into fine art, you are a major threat.
What is this perceived threat? Why are they so threatened?
First of all I am not perceived as a major threat. if anything I'm perceived as an imitator of Ed Ruscha because I live
in L.A. and I use text. I wish I was a major threat. That would be fun! But I'm afraid I don't have that kind of power. I guess
some people are threatened by humor in fine art because they see it as a corrupting influence.
Your credo that the purpose of artists is to create beautiful things, and your belief that humor is a major part of the “beautiful” might indicate that you hold technical art “study” in low regard. Is there as much point in studying why a portrait is “beautiful” as there is in analyzing why one laughs at a joke? In fact, as with “deconstructing” jokes, the analysis itself destroys the joke. Do you in fact prefer to remain “awed” by great art and laughing at funny art as the highest tribute to be paid to art (critics be damned)?
The creative act is not an act of analysis. It’s an in the moment spontaneous experience. The analysis comes later by the viewer and the arts. And yes too much analysis sucks the juice out of anything so its the challenge for the artist and the viewer when they are confronting art and humor.
Your broad artistic palate, stretching from painting to cartooning to video to puppetry, indicates a wildly wandering artistic consciousness. As someone who simply creates, like a mountain climber, “because it’s there,” do you ever feel the need to let the rational part of your mind catch up with the creative part of your mind that is so obviously in control of the show?
I try to keep it strictly creative in the studio. After the physical act of creating something the rational mind always takes over and starts to analyze it so its always a balancing act. Nobody is 100% creative or 100% rational.
What would you say to someone who thinks your art “mocks” art?
Uh.. Thank you.
What would you say to someone who says you’re talented enough to be a “real artist,” if only you’d take it more seriously?
Fuck you. Seriously.
What’s the most important compliment you’ve ever received from someone whose opinions on art you really respect?
Joel Hodgson called my paintings "magic" and that's coming from a magician!
What would your advice be to a young artist with interests in multiple disciplines and mediums just embarking on a lifetime of making art?
Don't let anybody tell you that you have to concentrate on one thing. You don't. It’s possible to cross over as many times as you want. I think crossing over is a healthy and invigorating thing to do. It freshens up all the genres. Many teachers will try to pigeon hole you unfortunately. Don't listen to them!
QuestionsFor the Reader
- When an artwork makes you laugh, do you consciously (or subconsciously) label the work as “not serious art” regardless of the artist’s creativity and talent?
- Has there been one moment in your life above all others when you were absolutely awestruck (“embarrassed”) to be in the presence of a particular artwork? Can you compare this with laugh you laughed at the funniest thing you’ve ever experienced in your life? Are beauty and humor necessities of life – or the whole point of life?