Saturday, June 22, 2024

Wayne White Gets the Word Out

It’s one thing to see images of Wayne White’s witty word paintings online, but as with any great artist, there’s nothing like absorbing them in a gallery setting. And the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is currently offering a cozy, dynamic survey of White’s idiosyncratic art.

As we cover in the current print edition of Boca Raton magazine, Wayne White is a renowned visual artist and polymath who paints blocky, pithy phrases atop repurposed landscapes purchased at thrift stores. It’s a concept that could easily grow repetitive, but White has kept it fresh by playfully remixing his fonts and patterns, and by slyly commenting on the placid landscapes underneath them.

The first thing you notice when viewing these works in person is the remarkable detail and precision of his paintings, which doesn’t come across in online reproductions. In “What’d I Tell Ya?,” the letters in the titular text sit like wobbly monoliths amid a pastoral of horses grazing in front of rolling hills. The shading and dimension of each letterform is perfectly conceived, and they bely White’s formal training. He achieves in many of his works an astonishing sense of three-dimensional perspective, as in the ludic “Art is Supposed to Hypnotize You or Something,” in which the words creep closer with each descending line, like a doctor’s eye chart. Even better is “Good Looking People Having Fun Without You,” wherein the text screams in a rainbow formation over a battle scene, its title lending the piece an aura of cheeky irony.

The opposition between the words and the image creates hilarious dialectics throughout the exhibition. The ineloquent slang “Dunno” and “Uh Huh” marvelously undercut the otherwise beautiful landscape paintings beneath them, and in the cryptic “Pay For Every Dance,” White tilted a floral still-life on its side for a topsy-turvy effect.

But if you walk the gallery clockwise, the works become more abstract and unhinged toward the end of the exhibit. “They Used to Put Me Down in the Seventies” is a manic masterpiece, a jumble of nebulous, parabolic, barely comprehensible letter sculptures sitting on a blustery ocean. This time, the background makes sense: The painting is like a linguistic shipwreck bobbing on a crashing surf. White’s newer pieces, like “Puppet Studio,” make even less sense, coming across like the mixed-media blueprints of a tinkering madman, esoteric and inscrutable but undeniably interesting.

But don’t be surprised if you’re distracted by the bright shiny object in the center of Art and Culture Center’s main gallery. In addition to his paintings and drawings, White is an accomplished puppeteer specializing in giant marionettes of regional historic figures. So in honor of Broward County’s recent centenary, the Art and Culture Center commissioned White to build a mammoth puppet of the county’s first governor and namesake, the pioneering, controversial Napoleon Bonaparte Broward (in office 1905-1909), who infamously launched a draining of the Everglades.

Completed on-site in just a couple of exhausting days, the resulting sculpture keeps a Big Brother-like watch over the gallery, his skin as green as the river of grass he sought to dismantle. His chest seems to rise from sawgrass, his greasy hair and bedazzled eyes like those of a cunning huckster, and his arms sprawl across the concrete floor like symmetrical snakes. As with White’s previous colossal puppets, it’s astonishing what he was able to accomplish with such primitive material as cardboard, glue, bamboo and spray paint.

While White was in town last month, he taught a weeklong puppet workshop for promising students at Miami’s New World School of the Arts and Design Architecture Senior High. The students’ final creations hang from the ceiling and walls of a smaller gallery at the Art and Culture Center. Their snails, owls, turtles, mantises and other strange creatures add to up form an otherworldly diorama—a bit of strange and beautiful inspiration with which to drive home.

“Wayne White: Art is Supposed to Hypnotize You or Something” runs through Aug. 23 at Art and Culture Center, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. Admission costs $4-$7. For information, call 954/921-3274 or visit artandculturecenter.org.

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