Wayne White was the guy in high school who drew funny pictures of the teachers to make his classmates laugh.
“People used to pay me their lunch money to do drawings. Early on I learned the business of it and was recognized for my talent as an artist,” White said.
White is a cartoonist, set-designer, painter, puppeteer, sculptor and a resident this month at the Studio’s of Key West. He grew up in a blue-collar home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and he said his parents were doubtful that he could make a living as an artist.
Boy, did he prove them wrong. His most notable achievements include the set design for “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” and for music videos including Billboard charts artist Peter Gabriel, The Offspring and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Soon after graduating college from Middle Tennessee University with a degree in fine arts, he moved to New York City to become an illustrator. He said he drew inspiration from Mad Magazine, Charles Schulz, R. Crumb, Gary Panter and his wife Mimi Pond (who wrote the first “Simpsons” episode). White said he underwent a fantastic evolution as an artist in that period, crossing over to other forms of creative expression.
“I did puppet shows at keg parties and designed sets. I had a friend in Tennessee that was with PBS and there was a job opening to design sets for a kids’ show,” White said.
His work on the set of Pee-wee’s Playhouse garnered three Emmys. Although he remembers those exciting times, he said his most enjoyable moments as an artist have been more recent.
“The last 15 years, I have gotten the chance to be my own boss. I don’t have follow somebody else’s ideas,” he said.
White has two series titled “Word Paintings” and “Word Paintings 2” where he superimposes text on ordinary landscape paintings readily available at second hand shops. At first he bought the paintings for the frames, but after brushing colorful graffiti-like texts on the pieces, he found a niche and new way of expression.
“I’m a frustrated writer. I call them the world’s shortest short stories,” he said. “I also try to show humor. Humor is an important human emotion and it is overlooked in the art world.”
Some of the phrases in the paintings are “We Were Partyin At The Lake And This Girl Starts Freakin Out” and “All That Fake Laughin for Nothin.” The words work in tandem with the landscape backgrounds.
“Art is the bloodstream of the world,” White said.
To see more of White’s work, visit waynewhiteart.com. He will be having a free presentation Sunday, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Key West Theater on 512 Eaton St.