Domy Books SXSW 2012: Beauty Is Embarrassing
On Saturday, a pack of SXSW film-badgers sat down at the Vimeo Theater to watch a documentary on the life of relentless artist Wayne White. They learned that Beauty Is Embarrassing. You may have been unable to gain that particular piece of education, but never fear! At Domy Books, from now until April 19, you can catch up.
White’s off-kilter brilliance fed the TV-tuned heads of pre- and post-pubescent kids throughout the 90s. His impressive CV includes New York Times and Village Voice cartoons, art direction for Peter Gabriel and the Smashing Pumpkins, and set and puppetry design for such iconic properties of television zaniness as Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the Weird Al Show and Shining Time Station.
The Domy exhibit showcases less hyperactive examples of White’s work, and although they sit still on canvas and paper they seem hardly less animated.
The principal materials of the show are repurposed prints, mass-production landscape lithographs that White collects at thrift shops and brightens with perspective-rendered phrases in dramatic lettering. The exhibit shares the title of his documentary, and, to reinforce the point, the well-hung centerpiece at the bookshop gallery bears it in pastel against a quizzically bucolic scene of cacti and mountain snow.
White’s words tower over the secondhand panoramas they decorate, dominating the space inside the frame with an imperious playfulness. The letters impose themselves on the scene but shimmer politely, blend in tightly but nevertheless demand the absolute hell out of a viewer’s attention. It’s difficult to even notice the ground behind each lexical figure, let alone imagine the print as it once was, unimproved.
In a sense it seems as if the theme of White’s painted work cleaves closely to the embarrassment noted by the show’s title. Here are these landscapes—these tropes of hotel-lobby pablum in frames more daring by degrees than the subject material—which someone, somewhere, somehow must’ve accused of being beautiful. White’s gigantic lettering serves to bowdlerize this misapprehended beauty, cover up its embarrassing bits with the upright propriety of a sweeping pop-art graffito about which, as one says, you’re supposed to act all impressed. Or not, maybe.
Alongside the paintings are a couple of sculptures and a display case full of sweet little nasty comic books rendered in black ink on paper. The framed works themselves, of which all but the title piece are for sale, can be yours for about $12,000 each.
We’re all busy running around this week, gobbling up films and bands and free cocktails in the daytime, but a short jaunt to the intersection of East Cesar Chavez and San Marcos Street won’t take up too much of your time. Find out how embarrassing beauty can be, and, in turn, how embarrassing it is that you never knew until now who built the puppets for Pee Wee.