Wednesday, September 6, 2017


The patio at Tony's, Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga is a high point on my list of favorite cities, especially its art district adjacent to the Tennessee River. Yesterday, we sat outdoors under a black umbrella at Tony’s on a balmy September morning waiting for lunch while I warmed my ailing joints. We watched sparrows and a hummingbird flying off course. The sparrows were searching for food under the tables and seemed to know that a platter of flatbread was on its way, so we had to be careful not to drop any crumbs or we would have been inundated by an invasion.

We were on our way to the Hunter Museum to see a special exhibit of the work of pop artist Wayne White, and I kept thinking that I could easily live in an apartment facing the river where I could walk to the art galleries, museum, and fine food restaurants every day.

Wayne White, a puppeteer, set designer, cartoonist, and illustrator, was born in Chattanooga and it’s appropriate for him to be exhibiting in his native city, although much of his fame was garnered in New York City where he began working as a cartoonist and illustrator for notable newspapers like The New York Times and The Village Voice. He also gained a foothold in the television world through his work on sets for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, winning three Emmy awards for his work. Later, he worked on sets for the award winning video for the Smashing Pumpkins.

MISS CAR, In The Hunter Museum exhibit
Courtesy of the Artist and Western Project, Los Angeles, CA

Security guards allowed us to take a few photographs of the exhibit, and we were overwhelmed by so much from which to choose, but as a lover of cartoons and comic book characters, I was drawn to a section featuring White’s “Miss Car,” White’s first published comic strip about a female protagonist who appears as an upside down car. White began his career by making black and white photocopies of this comic and handing them out on the streets of New York. The Art Director for East Village Eye magazine, popular during the 1980’s, began publishing “Miss Car” as a comic strip; and High Times Magazine later featured the strip in color.

When I saw the huge puppets White had designed; e.g., The Louvin Brothers, country music stars who had influenced the Everly Brothers and Emmylou Harris, I wished my oldest daughter Stephanie, who loves country music, had been with us. White portrays the puppet Ira Louvin with a huge forehead and wild looking eyes (probably indicative of his erratic behavior as an alcoholic); and Charlie, the smaller of the two is dwarfed by his brother’s massive presence. I read that the Rice Gallery at Rice University in Houston, Texas features a huge puppet head of country singer George Jones — an installation in which the puppet’s eyes rotate in its head, and if the viewer pulls a rope, the head begins to snore.

THE LOUVIN BROTHERS, In The Hunter Museum exhibit
on loan from Songbirds Museum

Another section of the exhibit includes some of White’s paintings and drawings of the “Moonship Launch” from the Smashing Pumpkins’ Song “Tonight, Tonight.” I wish that the exhibit had featured White’s “Wayne-O-Rama” cardboard heads of figures in Chattanooga’s history and a model of Lookout Mountain that shows Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the Incline.

UNDERWATER, In The Hunter Museum exhibit
Courtesy of the Artist and Western Project, Los Angeles, CA

White’s work is sometimes classified as art exemplifying the surrealism movement and reflects his interest in cubism. When I saw his sketch books filled with ideas for set designs, cartoons, and puppets, I felt like I was looking at the outpouring of one of the most imaginative minds in the contemporary art world —the sketchbook reminded me of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.

When we went into the gift shop, I bought a set of colored pencils and a “rescued paper note book,” for the doodle art that sometimes accompanies this blog. The closest I will get to cartooning is through the written narrative of Petite Marie Melancon in the kajun kween that features the whimsical illustrations of talented New Iberia artist Paul Schexnayder.

MY DOODLING, In Doodling A Word's Worth, February 2013,
by Diane Marquart Moore

P.S. The White exhibit is sponsored by the famous MoonPies Company that produces a round cake with marshmallow filling baked in Chattanooga Bakery, a fitting backer for this talented southern artist.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

No comments: