By the time you read this, Wayne White’s Invisible Ruler will be closed. The exhibition at Joshua Liner Gallery was Wayne’s return to NYC, and an outstanding success. Earlier this week, we caught up with Wayne in Los Angeles and proceeded to talk about life, art, and his life in art.
TWBE: Let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when did you first discover art?
Wayne White: That’s a tough question. I guess I discovered art in drawing, and that’s one of my earliest memories. I discovered drawing just on my own as every kid does. I didn’t know it was called art and I didn’t really know what an artist was for a long time. There were no galleries or museums or any culture around when I was kid at that time. I came to it naturally from just a love of drawing and of course as I grew I learned about art history and artists and everything. My mother was where I got my biggest influence from. She was the artistic one in the family and loved to decorate, collect antiques and stuff. So she knew a little bit about art. When I was a little bitty kid I remember her saying, “Well Wayne could be a commercial artist one day.” She’d say that to adults, I overheard her because she didn’t say it directly to me. I would sit there as a little kid and I would imagine an artist that comes on between TV shows on the commercial and he’s standing there painting a portrait and it’s a commercial you know… (Laughter). And you get a smock – I remember it as clear as a bell. The vision I had in my head. You’ve got a smock on and there’s a pedestal with a bowl of fruit on it and an easel. It’s a commercial of a guy painting. I thought that’s what a commercial artist was.
So from there you went to art school and studied abstract painting at a college in Tennessee?
Yeah as I grew in Chattanooga, I went to high school and stuff and I was the school artist and a cartoonist on the school newspapers. That’s what I originally wanted to be as a kid was a cartoonist because that was my idea of an artist. And then I went to Middle Tennessee State University and I majored in painting because I just thought that painting was a serious thing to do. It’s what real artist did. I took four years of painting and art history and stuff, and that’s where I really learned about the art world and the history of art. The history part of it was just as important as the actual doing of it because that was a great education for me. Just learning about the past. I studied abstract – my painting teacher was an abstract expressionist. That was my first serious foray into painting, abstract painting.
You never strayed from that at all? You never tried to paint cartoons or anything?
Well, I kept drawing underground cartoons for the college newspaper and I always had an interest in cartoons. And my abstract paintings had a very cartoony line and I was interested in finding the gap between abstract paintings and cartoons which they share a lot, and I was a big fan of Phillip Guston and Willem de Kooning who both had very cartoony lines. Cartoons were never very far from my mind and then the minute that I graduated from four years of that abstract expressionism and everything, I got back into comics because I saw Raw Magazine and I knew this was the next generation for undergrounds. It was full of exciting great art and Raw Magazine is what got me convinced to become a cartoonist again. It inspired me to move to New York City.
What year was that?
It was 1980 when I first saw Raw. I was in Nashville where I lived for a year after I graduated.
When did you move to New York?
I didn’t get to New York until January of ’82. I spent another year in Nashville saving my dough (laughs) and then I made the leap. And in 1982 it was pretty rough and ready you know. I lived downtown in the East Village and it was still pretty funky, but it was a great time for the arts. A time when a young artist could afford to live in Manhattan and it was New York City so it was great. It was very exciting. It was my best education.