Artist Wayne White: The Anti-Guru

Wayne White 003

“I can tell you from being around them; famous people are insane. Celebrity really is for crazy people.”

On Sunday, March 17th, the Brooks had the pleasure of hosting multi-media artist Wayne White. Originally from the wellspring of artistry of the American South, White is currently living on the west coast and in the loving arms of the art world for his “word paintings”. If this doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you will be more familiar with his role in a certain cultural phenomenon: White was one of the original puppet masters of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Recently dispatched from the Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva Island, Florida, the artist appeared quite tan and fully inspired as he obliged the Q & A session that followed Brooks’ screening of Beauty is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story, a documentary by Neil Berkeley that tracks the artist’s journey thus far.

“Hi, I’m Wayne White. If you ‘Q’, I will ‘A'”

And with this humble exposition, a smattering of positive inquiry unfurled from the audience in earnest. Artists, teachers, supporters of the arts, and even a man from White’s hometown provided the artist with a platform to divulge everything from the secrets to success (failure), to the best way to transfer a drawing to canvas (ballpoint pen). Effortlessly, his thoughts coalesced into sound bite lore: The insight of a formidable art-star packaged as Southern adage.

At one point, White expressed his dislike for the idea of having a guru, “I’m anti-guru.”
Indeed, he is….
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Art and the Community.

Yesterday at the museum, we co-hosted with Indie Memphis musician Stoll Vaughan as part of the David Lynch-presented web series Interview Project. Vaughan played some music, showed a few of the interviews (which I highly recommend everyone check out – a new one is released every three days), and told some stories from the road.  It was a great afternoon. 

I mention it because at one point Vaughan (a native of Kentucky, currently living in LA) said something that really hit me.  He said that in a city like Los Angeles people come to take, whereas in a community like Memphis they come to give.

That really struck a chord with me.  It is something that I have long felt, but have never been able to voice so perfectly.  Memphis is more than a city.  We, especially within the arts, are a community where giving back is par for the course.  Most of us have a healthy amount of pride in our city (don’t you Love Memphis, too?), and are committed to making it a better place.  Working at the Brooks, I am constantly reminded of what a transformative influence the arts can have on a person or place.  (Read more about our community mural projects, art therapy programs, and more here).  Also through the work of the Urban Art Commission, Rhodes’ CODA program, ArtsMemphis outreach, the South Main Arts District, the burgeoning Broad Ave scene, not to mention the countless individual artists that make great things happen around the city!

Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the NEA, is visiting Memphis at some point this week on a nationwide tour entitled Art Works that underscores this exact point. “Art Works” is a triple entendre referencing: 1.) art works, like the things that artists create; 2.) art works to transform a person, to make a place better, etc.; and 3.) art works because it creates jobs, employs people, stimulates the economy.

Next Sunday, December 6 at 2pm, we’re showing a movie at the museum that I think dovetails perfectly with this whole idea.  It is called Downside Up: How Art Can Change the Spirit of a PlaceJohn Weeden (the seemingly indefatigable Director of the UAC) and I decided to show this a couple months back, before the news of Landesman’s visit was announced, so the timing of it couldn’t be more perfect (though honestly, completely unintentional).

After the film, we will be holding an open conversation about positive things happening in our own community; areas where we’d like to see improvement; ideas about how we can better nurture the arts as an integral part of the city’s development, etc.  Representatives from both the UAC and the Center City Commission will be there to listen and to explore ideas with us, the arts community, and all those interested.

So if you believe in the power of art, if you believe that art can make a difference in our community, in our city, please come out to lend your voice to this discussion!

Sunday, December 6  | 2 pm
Film: Downside Up
Can art make an impact on an individual, a community, a city? With the majority of its downtown deserted, many people had given up on North Adams, Massachusetts, until MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) located there and breathed life back into the community.  The Brooks Museum collaborates with the Urban Art Commission to present this moving documentary about how art can bring the tentative, dangerous notion of hope to a city widely viewed as hopeless.
Stay afterwards for a discussion on how art makes a difference in Memphis with representatives from the Urban Art and Center City Commissions.

(Free for members; $5 suggested donation for non-members.)

An Education in Rock

Tucked away somewhere in my closet is a t-shirt designed with “The Clash” logo. But, I have to be honest that until doing research for our upcoming “rockumentary” film about The Clash frontman Joe Strummer, I knew nothing about the band. I suppose this proves that not only am I pathetically devoted to fashion trends, but I am also a lot less cool than I would like to think.

While researching the band, I found that I should be embarrassed in my lack of knowledge of The Clash. In reading about our next film- Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, I found that the rock band had quite an impact on society. Joe Strummer had a devoted following of millions, continuing today, even after his death. His lyrics were powerful and compelling, and it was interesting to find out that some of those lyrics in the 1970’s and 1980’s even predicted current events like the war in Iraq and the consequences of global warming.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten was directed by one of Joe’s long-time and closest friends, Julien Temple. Because of this, the film is a very personal look into Joe’s life with real interviews, concert footage, and home videos. The way the film was produced was a great reflection of Joe Strummer himself- raw, honest, and uncut. Its MySpace page calls it a “spontaneous combustion” on screen, and I would have to agree. This “rockumentary” is definitely worth watching, whether you are a devoted Clash fan, have never even heard of the band, or are a fake fan like me. So if you’re wondering, “should I stay or should I go?” just pull out your Clash t-shirts and come see the film on Sunday, June 22nd at 2 p.m. It should be a rockin’ good time.

Local musician Robert Johnson will introduce the film, detailing his personal encounters with Strummer and the band while recording alongside them in the summer of 1977.

Rockumentary series

Don’t know if any of you got a chance to come to Pete Seeger: The Power of Song yesterday.  It was the first in our Rockumentary film series (to coincide with our Psychedelia rock posters exhibition), and it was incredible.  The whole documentary — and perhaps Seeger’s life in general — is built upon the premise that each of us CAN make a difference.  And music has the power to do so; art has the power to do so.  These are powerful tools that communicate ideas, and unite people around worthy causes.

The next up in the series on Sunday, June 15 is The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Film Festival.  Filmmaker Murray Lerner has crafted a revealing portrait the young Bob Dylan during the crucial period of 1963 – 65, as he grows progressively darker, taking his first steps into rock and roll.

After that, we move on to a film about Clash frontman Joe Strummer in The Future is Unwritten — screening at the Brooks on Sunday, June 22 at 2pm.  The film is full of interviews of friends and collaborators, and plenty of concert footage, set against a backdrop of the 70s punk mentality.  I like this quote about the film I read on Rotten Tomatoes: “[Director Julien] Temple gets at the heart of Strummer’s character, at the unbridled joy that existed within his righteous anger, the satisfaction of knowing he was on the right side of history and hadn’t had to sell any part of himself to get there.”

Hope you get a chance to catch one or both of these…