seems unfamiliar, chances are, you’re familiar with his
work. Born in Chattanooga, and based in L.A, White began his artistic
trajectory traditionally, with a BFA program in his home state, but following
school he pursued a series of careers in illustration, set design, and
production, among others. During the ’80s he worked as a cartoonist for the New
, the Village Voice
, and Rolling Stone
; toward the
end of that decade and through the ’90s, he became an Emmy-winning set designer
for TV shows, including children’s hits Pee-wee’s Playhouse—
he was also
the voice of Vance the Pig in the feature film Big Top Pee-Wee
Shining Time Station
. He also dabbled in music video production for The
Smashing Pumpkins and Peter Gabriel songs, which earned him Billboard and MTV
Music Video Awards. It doesn’t stop there—remember that Snapple iced tea ad
campaign with the puppets from the early 2000s? White directed and was head
puppeteer for the commercials.
humor, and staging are all threads that run throughout his art, which he’s returned
to in recent years, to great success. Driven by his experiences, his career has
garnered him a 382-page monograph and a documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing
This fall, White is celebrated anew with a major solo show, “Invisible Ruler
,” at Chelsea’s Joshua Liner
caught up with the artist in anticipation of the show, to talk about
inspirations behind his artistic practice and what to expect from the show he
describes as his “ best
How has your experience working as a cartoonist and a production designer
informed your artistic career? Can you tell us about the role of humor in your
White: I learned about communication. It seems simple enough—expressing an
emotion or an idea to another person. But the ambiguities of art objects don’t
allow that. Comics and sets either work or they don’t. You can’t hide. They
showed me how to be honest with myself and the viewer. Humor is truth-telling.
People crave that.
How did you become interested in puppetry? Will this be manifested in
came to puppetry as a cynical art student. I wanted to smash through the
cuteness and find the power source of these voodoo doll shows. I’m still
digging for that primal feeling.
Can you talk us through the process behind your word paintings? How did you
begin making these works and how do you go about choosing language and imagery?
keep a journal, like any writer. I edit things down to the most minimal lines
and paint them as forms on found landscape prints. The framed prints, usually
found in thrift stores, are empty stages for my typographic dramas. I began
this series 14 years ago as a spur-of-the-moment joke. Art is funny that way.
It sneaks up on you in unlikely ways.
Can you describe some highlights from “Invisible Ruler” and the experience that
visitors to the show will encounter? How does this show compare to previous
shows you have had?
WW: “Invisible Ruler” will have
at least 20 new word paintings, Civil War puppet heads, my expressionist
drawings and watercolors, and a brand new 3D installation that I won’t reveal
at this time. The viewer, who might just know the word stuff, will see all
sides of me. I deliver a whole Disneyland of eyeball rides. This is my best one