Described by Matt Groening as “a little Zach Galifianakis, a little Snuffy Smith, a little Unabomber,” artist Wayne White is fueled by a very rare breed of inspired, constructive insanity that you have to see to believe—which is why Beauty is Embarrassing is mandatory viewing for all creative types.
Neil Berkeley couldn’t have chosen a more self-propelled subject matter for his first feature-length documentary. Wayne White, the mind responsible for many unforgettable images from my own formative years (Pee-wee’s Playhouse, The Smashing Pumpkins video “Tonight, Tonight,” Beakman’s World) is the type of person who instantly both offends and magnetizes. His sparkling blue eyes and deep southern speech say that he is a kind family man, but his frenetic thought patterns and fondness for the F-word say that he is a rebel who can’t be contained. As Todd Oldham said in the movie, White is “one of those puzzles that you’ll never finish.”
The film follows the journey of our multi-talented antihero through Tennessee, Texas, New York and Los Angeles, documenting his ups and downs as a cartoonist, designer, puppeteer, voice-over actor, animator, musician, friend, husband, father, and, in an interesting “second act,” internationally renowned fine artist who is now considered one of the founding fathers of the current state of pop art (even Banksy’s work has been exhibiting some obvious White-influenced attributes lately).
While the film is rife with laugh-out-loud moments, its tenderness and thought-provoking art philosophy keep the story fascinating. White’s life is built on internal conflict: as a country boy growing up in a place where “art was something that you bought at Kmart,” White’s creativity often manifested itself as a reaction to southern authority figures. His parents, though supportive, didn’t understand him, and he was constantly fighting against a sense of shame and repression that any unusual personality in the south must deal with. To become successful, White had to “forsake” the traditions that built him, though it’s obvious they are still part of him. “Part of the drama of this movie is where I come from,” White said at the LA Film Fest’s post-viewing Q&A. “I was dying to get out.”
Though White’s good humor and supportive wife Mimi Pond (famed cartoonist and writer) keep him sane, Beauty is Embarrassing, the title of the film which comes from one of White’s famous word paintings, is a sentiment that plagues him often. All artists know the feeling: you build your life around your own brilliance, and your ego can’t help but be wrapped up in there, too. To say, “I am an artist; I create beauty,” is, well, embarrassing. This is why White’s mission—to bring humor and entertainment to fine art—is both irreverent and appropriate.
White’s advice for the rest of us is to recognize that “we’re gonna die,” so if there’s something that feels pressing, something that inspires, “just hammer the fuck away at it.” With persistence, White says “anybody can come from anywhere and make their shit come true.”
After seeing this uplifting movie, you are sure to be inspired to “follow your heart and your pleasure in art.” To watch the trailer and make sure that Beauty is Embarrassing gets the opening it deserves on September 7, visit and donate to the movie’s Kickstarter campaign.