“I follow instincts instead of intellectual ideas. I really don’t think the artist is an intellectual. I believe that the artist is a set of nerves, nerve endings. That’s what an artist is.” – Wayne White.
In 1986, a deranged collection of manic energy distilled nominally into human form and labeled Paul Reubens launched a television program. The show, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, ran for just four years, but inspired legions of fans in no small part thanks to a vibrant, surreally humorous set design supplied by a then 28 year old art director, Wayne White.
This Friday, with An Evening with Wayne White, the celebrated American artist will speak in conjunction with the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art’s current exhibition Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose and in advance of an exhibition scheduled for late next year at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art.
White is well known for an eclectic career that includes the direction of Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” in ’86 as well as the set design for the Smashing Pumpkin’s gorgeous mid-nineties video, “Tonight, Tonight.”
A concentration in recent years on fine art has resulted in a painting career, leading him to feature work in galleries across the country. His style involves repurposing mass-produced lithographs, typically picked up in thrift shops, into found art with highly detailed 3-D lettering incorporating words or phrases.
We spoke with NYC gallery owner Joshua Liner, who has spent years curating and presenting White’s art.
AltDaily: How do you work with Wayne?
Joshua Liner: I discovered his work years ago, and then about four years ago began a direct professional relationship with him. We mount solo exhibitions and arrange for institutional loans like the one for MoCA. We just closed his second solo exhibition here at the gallery earlier this month. The name of the show was “I’m having a dialogue with the universe and you’re just sitting there.”
We plan a show like this over a year in advance. For the last show, I visited Wayne in Los Angeles, where he lives. We sat down and chatted about what he wanted to do — he’ll go over sketches for some installation ideas, there’s some brainstorming. A lot of back and forth between the two of us and input that he’ll take as far as even specific paintings to make.
The thing about his work that’s really interesting, is that he likes to make his installations completely immersive. When we’re showing other artists in my gallery, we might just have the usual paintings up against white walls. But with Wayne we’ll do things like wallpaper installation. Or the walls will be painted with murals. It really goes back to his set design days.
How long have you been an admirer of his work?
I grew up in the eighties, and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was a huge part of my upbringing. I used to sit on the floor of my parent’s bedroom — that was the only place there was a TV in the house when we were kids — and I was totally gaga over the show. Years later, I’m the owner of an art gallery in New York, and I remember seeing Wayne’s painting for the first time, these word paintings at art fairs online.
I was so drawn to them, not knowing that that I already had a connection to his work through that early set design. And once I started researching him I realized that he was responsible for a large part of my childhood. I reached out to him and through a series of emails we started working together and it just became a great relationship both personally and professionally.
Do you or he have any special connection to our region?
I’d been to Virginia Beach many years ago, and I’ll be down for the talk this weekend. We’re planning a site visit for the space. What Wayne likes to do is incorporate local history into a given show that he’s doing. He’ll look at the physical space and decide how he wants to approach it with regards to it.. He’s a big history buff.. So for example, with this show he’s currently thinking of re-enacting a historical battle. He often likes to work with cardboard. He’ll create cardboard puppets or kinetic sculptures and encourage people to really interact with the art. People who don’t typically go to museums or galleries find it easier to connect with the work as a result. Either through the historical element, which they might have a connection to, or just because it’s different and unusual and fun.
An Evening with Wayne White will take place at the Virginia MoCA this Friday, Nov. 4th at 7PM. Tickets: MOCA Members $20 / Non-members $30. Includes admission to Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose. Galleries will be open before and after the event. Click here for more info. To see more of Wayne White’s work click here to visit his website.