‘Beauty Is Embarrassing: The Art of Wayne White’

White's phrases painted meticulously onto found artworks leave us at a loss for words

Arts Review

'Beauty Is Embarrassing: The Art of Wayne White'

Domy Books, 913 E. Cesar Chavez, 476-3669
Through April 19

Domy Books is about books, of course. And the thing about books, of course, is that they're filled with words. And certainly there are books filled with words – words of fabulous description and arcane technical explication – throughout the bright joint. But more often than not, the books there are filled with images. Domy's a store of art books, specifically, comprising works from ancient Leonardo's notebooks and last century's Bauhaus architecture to yesterday's brightest spray paint in urban alleyways. You know, the gamut.

Which is why there's no better place in town, contextually, for an exhibition by Wayne White. That's because White – one of the designers of the long-lamented Pee-wee's Playhouse, among other televised goodness – has achieved fame by insinuating words into artwork. Not by juxtaposing provocative phrases of black or white sans serif with stark images à la Barbara Kruger, but via meticulously painting phrases (more playful than provocative) into the backgrounds and foregrounds of landscape paintings he discovered in thrift stores.

When we say meticulously, we're not referring to the skill necessary for regular writing or even the vanishing cursive script. We're talking about rendering words in huge letters of perfectly shaded three-dimensional attitudes that take the lighting of the original painting into consideration. White's words are not overlays, in our perception of them; rather, they inhabit the pastoral scenes as naturally as the scenes inhabit themselves.These works are like palimpsests, except that they're palimpsests from the inside out.

"Palimpsests from the inside out" – that's not one of White's phrases, but it's not so dissimilar from what he might weave into the remaindered and often gaudily framed wildernesses. Beauty Is Embarrassing reads the painting after which this exhibit is named. (It's also the name of the film about White and his work, directed by Neil Berkeley and currently premiering at South by Southwest.) The Sound of Cutting Slack reads another – although not one in this show; go and discover those for yourself, is the idea here. And you think that's a good idea? Maybe, as another White work goes, You're Just Agreeing With Me So I'll Shut Up.

This Domy exhibition includes a few small sculptures by the artist, too, as well as a glass-enclosed table displaying a series of minicomics he created (Geedar #1-5) and an Altoids tin with its lid now bearing White's familiar type spelling out I Didn't Want Your Stupid Award Anyway. The opening reception was a success, although it stopped somewhat short of what White imagined in his 2010 creation, Weeping Gallery Goers Follow the Artist Into the Street and Embrace the Indifferent Cad. Yes, these are letters; these are images; this is some awesome, unforgettable shit. We'd attempt further description here, but words – only mostly, of course – fail us.

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