MTSU alumnus Wayne White served as a designer and puppeteer for “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” earning three Emmy Awards in the process.(waynewhiteart.com)
Wayne White is proud to dance a jig while wearing a giant puppet head of President Lyndon B. Johnson. He’s proud to say that Middle Tennessee State University is where his art and his life began to bloom.
And despite the title of the irreverent documentary that's made him a current media darling and an "overnight sensation" in an already 30-plus-year career, Wayne White does not find beauty "embarrassing."
The Emmy-winning artist and performer will return to MTSU on Tuesday, March 19, undoubtedly with his banjo and harmonica, for a free guest lecture and special screening of that documentary, "Beauty is Embarrassing," in the Keathley University Center Theater at 7 p.m.
White, a native of Hixson, Tenn., earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from MTSU in 1979 and made his way to New York City. He worked as an illustrator for several publications, including The New York Times and the Village Voice, and in 1986 became a designer and puppeteer for “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” earning three Emmy Awards in the process.
He and his wife, artist and author Mimi Pond, then moved to California, where he continued his TV work with sets and characters for “Shining Time Station,” “Beakman’s World,” “Riders in the Sky” and “Bill & Willis.”
He also worked with music videos, winning Billboard and MTV Music Video Awards as an art director for his work on The Smashing Pumpkins' “Tonight, Tonight” and Peter Gabriel's “Big Time.”
White embarked on a “second act” in the new century, creating paintings, sculptures and public works exhibited around the world.
His most recognized fine arts work now are his paintings, which use thrift-shop-scavenged “sofa painting” landscapes as backdrops for oversized, 3-D, deadpan words and phrases reminiscent of the old Burma Shave roadside signs and ubiquitous “See Rock City” barn roofs and birdhouses that peppered his childhood.
“He Acts All Weird for No Good Reason,” “Awopbopalubop,” “Not All There,” “I Took Off Work and Came All The Way Down Here” and “Beauty is Embarrassin'” are just a few examples.
One of those text paintings, “Maybe Now I'll Get The Respect I So Richly Deserve,” also lent its name to a 2009 400-page monograph of White’s work, edited by designer Todd Oldham.
The often profound and sometimes profane “Beauty is Embarrassing,” which premiered at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, recently aired on PBS’s “Independent Lens."
It's a trip through White’s life and career, complete with a poignant visit back to the MTSU campus as well as excursions with his fellow alumnus and good friend, P. Michael Quinn, who teaches fine arts at The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tenn.