As the old cliche goes, Wayne White has worn many hats in his three-decade artistic career: illustrator, animator, puppet engineer, production designer, painter.
For his return to the Sooner State, White, 55, broke out his trusty 12-year-old cowboy hat to get in the spirit of creating a “cubist cowboy rodeo” at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
“I've always loved rodeos. One of my earliest memories is going to a rodeo in Tennessee and I was fascinated by them when I was a kid,” White said earlier this month, standing under his giant sculpture of a bull rider in one of the museum's third-floor galleries.
“You don't have to know anything about art, just come in and enjoy it. And if you do know stuff about art, you can enjoy the art references: There are references to Picasso and expressionism and everything else, hard-edge geometric art. You know, pick your theme. It's all there, too.”
“I like to think as an artist everything you've done in the past just always stays with you in your work, and this is definitely true of this,” he added. “My 25 years of working in Hollywood is definitely evident. I see it like in the puppets from all those TV shows. ... Even my years as a cartoonist are somewhat in there, and certainly my experience as a sculptor and a painter, that's evident also. So it's all in there in the mix.”
The letters of “Oklahoma” are mixed up in the exhibit's title, too. “HALO AMOK: A Puppet Installation by Wayne White,” part of the museum's New Frontiers Series for Contemporary Art, opens Thursday at the museum. Film curator Brian Hearn, who is curating the temporary site-specific installation, said the goal of the series is to connect museum patrons with the work of living artists.
“One of the things that attracted me to Wayne's work is just the humor element, which is sorely lacking in the art world,” he said.
“HALO AMOK” is opening at the start of the 13th Annual deadCenter Film Festival, which counts the museum as one of its screening sites. The timing is deliberate and appropriate since White first came to Oklahoma City last year with the festival's showing of his documentary “Beauty Is Embarrassing.”
Directed by Moore native Neil Berkeley, the film chronicles White's wildly varied career, which includes earning three Emmys as a designer for the influential TV show “Pee-Wee's Playhouse,” winning Billboard and MTV Music Video Awards as an art director for seminal music videos like The Smashing Pumpkins' “Tonight, Tonight” and Peter Gabriel's “Big Time,” and transitioning into fine arts with his distinctive word paintings.
“I've never felt like there's any real distinction between low and high art 'cause I've lived in both worlds and I see the craft involved. I don't make a distinction between them at all. I like to mash ‘em all together as much as I can,” White said.