Artist, puppeteer, designer and MTSU graduate Wayne White visited Liquid Smoke on Saturday, Oct. 10, to promote his new book, “Maybe Now I’ll Get The Respect I So Richly Deserve.”
Though many may not know the name Wayne White, his work has touched the lives of millions and could even be called the imagery of their childhood for many who grew up watching television in the late 1980s.
The new book, though, deals as much with his work as a painter than his children’s show puppetry. This whole other style of White has produced works with large, three-dimensional looking letters painted over existing landscape paintings he finds in thrift stores.
These unique paintings upon paintings contain phrases ranging from “No” to “Heinies N Shooters with Hotties at Hooters” to “Way to go Mister Subtle.”
The wording on these pieces can be boldly obvious, or twisting, turning or trailing off into oblivion in a way that makes simply figuring out what the words say the first challenge. Figuring out what they mean is the next.
White has been attending events around the country to plug the new book, but the appearance with musical accompaniment from Lamb Chop was a Liquid Smoke exclusive.
White has provided artwork for some of the band’s recordings.
He also worked on the visually captivating music videos for “Tonight, Tonight” by The Smashing Pumpkins and “Big Time” by Peter Gabriel.
White grew up in Chattanooga and says vivid, colorful laundry detergent boxes gave him an early sense of artistic direction, citing Superman and Robert Crumb (the “king of underground cartoons”) as other initial influences on his art.
“I liked Huckleberry Hound, because he was a blue cartoon dog, and I loved blue cartoon dogs,” White continued. “The Confederama and Incline Railway gave me a sense of theater.”
He went on to attend college at Middle Tennessee State University, graduating from the art department in 1979.
White later served as a designer at the Cumberland Science Museum in Nashville and in 1985 landed a gig with “Mrs. Cabbobbles Caboose”–you remember, the old show on Nashville’s Channel 8, WDCN, with the grumpy old wood stove, Monica the Moose and the cool cartoony train intro.
“I went from being a cartoonist and illustrator to a set designer and puppeteer,” White said.
White served as set designer for the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” video. It won best set design at the 1996 MTV Music Video Awards.
He joined the crew for a new project with a rising comedian in L.A. in 1986, cementing his work as some of the most memorable childhood imagery for a generation.
“I got a job on the greatest TV show ever known to man,” White said.
That comedian was Paul Reubens, and the program was the immortal “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.”
White voiced Randy, Dirty Dog, Mr. Kite, Flower No. 3, Roger the Monster and other characters, and he was also behind a lot of the imagry and other puppets.
After the success of the Pee Wee’s Big Adventure film in 1985, the CBS network green lighted a new type of program, to air on Saturday mornings. White was brought on board at the beginning of the television show.
“It was a dream job; he really was a visionary,” White said of Reubens.
Rather than hire a bunch of Hollywood industry people for the program, Reubens brought together a bunch of artists who never worked in TV before, White explained.
Now, the whole Playhouse team is preparing for a big Pee Wee reunion stage show in Vegas, according to White, who also provided the voice of Vance the Pig in Big Top Pee Wee.
White also lent his creativity to the beautifully creative “Weird Al Show,” “Beakman’s World,” “Shining Time Station,” “Riders in the Sky” and other children’s programming, but it was his work on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” that gained him three Emmy Awards and was the reason I got out of bed on Saturday mornings when I was a kid (along with breakfast cereal and “Garfield and Friends”).