Wayne White deserves a place in the modern art world even if his work indirectly mocks the very notion of that oh, so serious society.
“Beauty is Embarrassing,” the new documentary capturing White’s eclectic brand of art, makes a sturdy case that his lifetime of artistic expression deserves nothing less than our respect. On the surface, that’s no small task.
“Beauty is Embarrassing” captures White’s nutty amalgam of talents, from self-taught puppeteer to slapdash sculptor. It’s hardly the stuff of standard art exhibits, particularly White’s word paintings where he applies a crudely comical punchline atop the kind of generic landscape art you’d find at a garage sale.
Could you really envision a painting with the phrase, “He Was Drunk So Mama Went and Got Him” hanging at your local gallery?
It’s White’s way of expressing his need to shirk the shackles of polite society, but it’s hardly mean spirited or crass. That’s just White, a good ol’ boy who feels an incessant need to create.
Director Neil Berkeley embraces an equally diffuse narrative structure, giving us the larger beats of White’s career without any strict guide posts. White’s biggest claim to fame is giving life to “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” the madcap kiddie show which made Paul Reubens a star. White helped create the sets for the show and brought some of its puppets to life.
The film’s recap of “Pee Wee’s” creative process is fascinating, a look at a group of unfettered artists given the space to do as they please. Reuben’s subsequent bust at a pornographic theater is given little attention, although the commotion had nothing to do directly with White’s craft.
Berkeley introduces us to White’s steady muse, wife Mimi Pond, and we also meet White’s sweet-natured mum and pa. Watching Papa White, a just the facts, ma’am type, tear up during one of White’s speeches shows us the simple bond between parent and child.
“Beauty is Embarrassing” fails to deliver on some of his promise. The rise of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” begs an outsider’s voice to put the show in pop culture context. And a segment focusing on one of White’s old artistic pals, a man who refused to move to New York or L.A. as White did to pursue his visions, all but screams for more insight.
White’s work may no longer have a broad medium like “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” to reach the masses, but “Beauty is Embarrassing” should introduce his voracious appetite for art to a wider audience.