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A Fantastic Life 

Meet Wayne White, the most fascinating artist you’ve never heard of

click to enlarge White as Lyndon Johnson.
  • White as Lyndon Johnson.

You have almost certainly never heard of Wayne White, thus the prospect of sitting through a feature-length documentary about this man is perhaps less than enticing.

White, however, might be the most interesting man you’ve never heard of. You’ll just need to watch a movie to find that out.

Beauty is Embarrassing introduces the world at large to an artist who’s already a hero to a cult following of pop-art lovers. Though he’s not a household name, you’ve likely seen his work. In the mid-1980s, White was a struggling artist in New York when he began building puppets and providing voices for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, perhaps one of the most bizarrely excellent creations to ever appear on television. From there, he created comics, sculptures, walked around wearing an LBJ puppet head and worked on music videos, including a role as art director for Smashing Pumpkins’ then-groundbreaking “Tonight Tonight.”

More recently, he’s taken to buying cliché-ridden paintings at thrift stores and then adding his own 3D lettering within the image. For example, he takes a seascape, replete with waves and cliffs and birds mid-flight and then adds, with rainbow-colored block lettering, the words “Topless Dragstrip Race Riot.” White has also taken to performing a multimedia one-man show, and director Neil Berkeley uses this new endeavor as a vehicle to show us White’s life.

The telling of his upbringing in the Tennessee mountains to parents who didn’t quite understand their son’s quirky ways is done beautifully, as are the scenes with White, his wife (illustrator Mimi Pond) and their two teen children. Here we meet this gloriously weird man, yet so many aspects of his life are completely normal and relatable. It’s an easy and inspiring story to follow.

While Berkley’s direction gives this film wings, it’s White himself who actually makes it take flight. The guy, with his robust beard, foul mouth and calm Southern drawl, borders upon mesmerizing. You just want to listen to him talk, even if you’ve never heard of him. 

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