By Nikki Sneed, Staff Writer
Art lovers can embrace the unexpected with Wayne White’s abstract and cubist creations in his first solo exhibit at Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum of American Art.
Students are invited to explore the larger-than-life pictures, puppets and sculptures of the Chattanooga native from now until Oct. 1 with White’s special exhibit Thrill After Thrill: Thirty Years of Wayne White at the Hunter Museum.
So much more than an average artist, White has been an illustrator, a set designer, an art director, a comic book artist, a puppeteer, a painter, a sculptor and a cartoonist, and the Thrill After Thrill exhibit reflects his wide range of experience by featuring an amalgam of his life’s work.
As a representation of his life’s work, the exhibit, which opened June 30, dives into White’s “word” paintings, cardboard, wood and bronze sculptures, larger-than-life puppets and various sketches and cartoons.
White’s work often draws on his memories of growing up in Chattanooga and the rural South.
“I grew up in the wild Tennessee woods—the land that still echoes with the sounds of the Civil War,” said White in a recent Tedx Talk.
That sentiment is reflected in White’s work as many of his paintings examine and critique the Civil War and prominently feature the Confederate flag and even the Confederama, a Chattanooga museum dedicated to tabletop recreations of Civil War battles.
White’s work is also instilled with his wit and ingenuity as he focuses on imbibing each creation with humor.
“My mission is to bring humor into fine art… Humor is our most sacred quality and it deserves to be on a pedestal,” said White in his Tedx Talk.
In addition to his paintings, White has built an impressive career as a set designer for television shows, most notably “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” which earned him three Emmy Awards, and music videos, including The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time.”
Puppets were largely featured in this time period of his career, as he made puppets for the sets of the shows he worked on, The Smashing Pumpkins’ video, and even created and voiced his own puppet character in “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.”
Now White regularly creates large puppets of Civil War soldiers or prominent Chattanooga historical figures, such as Bessie Smith, many of which are featured in “Wayne-O-Rama,” a self-described “Southside funhouse of Chattanooga history.”
“‘Wayne-O-Rama’ is a wonderland, straight from my imagination to yours. It is a funhouse for all ages that tells the story of Chattanooga and the South. It’s the Smithsonian Museum meets Goony Golf. It’s a celebration of the culture that shaped me, and a gift to my hometown,” White said on the Wayne-O-Rama official website.
Probably White’s most popular pieces are the “word” paintings he is known for, in which White adds large, colorful 3-D letters into thrift store landscapes.
“My very earliest memories are giant letters in the supermarket. I love letters. I’ve been hypnotized by letters since I was a kid, even before I could read. I saw every letter as a character,” said White in his Tedx Talk.
White’s “word” paintings are a highly engaging part of the Thrill After Thrill exhibit as each of the letters, words, or phrases are bright, eye-catching and inspirational so the viewer can follow the almost-abstract trail and decipher the words or meaning.
In his Tedx Talk, White describes the “word” paintings as often taking on a life of their own. The words do not have any connection to the background of the painting and he often adds whatever letters or words he thinks will fit in a space and later discovers what he’s created and how it interacts with the background.
“That’s the special magic you have to believe in as an artist,” said White in the talk. “The object you’re making comes alive and it tells you what it wants to do. And it starts to do things you could never have planned before. That’s one of the great joys of making art.”
To experience this incredible summer exhibit, visit the Hunter Museum before it leaves on Oct. 1.
Student pricing includes a yearlong membership to the Hunter Museum for $15, with proof of student identification. General admission to the Hunter Museum, including this special exhibition, is $15 for adults and free for youth 17 and under. As always, members are admitted free. To learn more about membership, visit www.huntermuseum.org/memberships.