Beauty Is Embarrassing, which plays this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, is the rare documentary about an artist who’s well-adjusted in both his private and public life. The subject, multimedia pop artist Wayne White, seems content exhibiting his work in galleries and diners, museums and grade schools; and given how prolific he is (he creates paintings, sculptures, and gallery installations and has worked in television), he has plenty of work to go around. He also comes across in the movie as a supportive husband and father who remains comfortable with his small-town southern roots in spite of having lived in Los Angeles for more than two decades. White, who first came to fame for his design work and puppetry on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, is a proud eccentric, and it’s inspiring to learn he’s been so successful in life and art simply by being himself.
I spoke to White the other morning before he got to work in his Los Angeles studio. He seemed no different on the phone than he did onscreen—amiable, funny, and often self-deprecating.