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Beauty Is Embarrassing 2012

  • Neil Berkeley
  • September 7, 2012
  • 88 mins
  • English
  • Documentary
Raised in the Tennessee mountains, Wayne White started his career as a cartoonist in NYC. He quickly found success as one of the creators of the Pee-wee's Playhouse TV show which soon led to more work designing some of the most arresting and iconic images in pop culture. Recently his word paintings featuring pithy and and often sarcastic text statements finely crafted onto vintage landscape paintings have made him a darling of the fine art world. The movie chronicles the vaulted highs and crushing lows of an artist struggling to find peace and balance between his professional work and his personal art. This is especially complicated for a man who struggles with the virtues he most often mocks in his art...Vanity, ego and fame.


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I watched this because I enjoyed 'Harmontown', Neil Berkeley's other recent documentary.

I think 'Beauty Is Embarrassing' may actually be the better film. Not only is its subject, Wayne White, more interesting and multi-dimensional, but it makes some really interesting observations about pop art.

Full disclosure. I wouldn't consider myself a fan of most of White's work. His puppetry is a little one-note, and the art he makes from retooling thrift store paintings with text overlays is too cutesy and self-aware for my taste.

That being said, White's creative process is something to behold, and his irrepressible, guileless drive to create is contagious. I may not appreciate his art, but I'm glad that there are people who do.

One scene in particular was quite revelatory — not just of the artist, but of the overall healing process that creating art can provide. White chooses to design and build a caricature puppet of “Southern-Daddy-Shame-Ray-Redneck” a stoic, male authority figure that haunted Wayne's childhood with insults and criticism. And then he just sits with it.

"You look like a woman with that hair," intones the stone-faced puppet.

"That's him all right," says White.

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