Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sittin Round Drunk in Houston

Robert Boyd

When a band comes to your town, they always do a little shout out--"Hello Cleveland!"--even though from their point of view, this is just another bus-hotel-limo-arena-etc., just like the last one and all the ones before. But it means something to us. I still remember the little thrill I got when the Talking Heads replaced "El Paso" with "Houston" in the lyrics when they played "Cities" at the Sam Houston Coliseum in 1983.

So bands, sure. But painters? Take a look at what Wayne White did.

Wayne White, Sittin Round Drunk In Houston, 2013, acrylic on found offset lithograph, 28 x 52 inches

It makes you wonder if he paints a new "Sittin Round Drunk In ___________" for every city he has a new exhibit in. That said, White does have a history with Houston. We hosted his amazing installation Big Lectric Fan to Keep Me Cool While I Sleep at the Rice Gallery in 2009. I don't know if he spent any of the time he was here building it sittin round drunk, but who knows? Or maybe it's a tribute to the hundreds (thousands?) of people in Houston who, on any given night, are sittin round drunk. (I imagine tonight, when the Texans meet the Titans for the season opener, that number may be in the tens of thousands--especially if we lose.)

In any case, White's show Dunno at the David Shelton Gallery was pretty much what one expects from a Wayne White exhibit--words and phrases painted more-or-less seamlessly as three-dimensional objects into old mass-produced landscapes.

Wayne White, Dorkus, 2009, acrylic on found offset lithograph, 29 1/2 x 41 1/2 inches

These paintings have something to please everyone. White displays exceptional painting and skill and craft, for those who value it. But he also engages in appropriation and the use of found objects, for viewers who prefer a little pomo in their art. The enormous floating words have a surreal presence, being bizarrely juztaposed with the banal landscapes. But the landscapes, cheap lithograph reproductions that some of us might recall seeing at our grandparents' houses, are pieces of cozy working class nostalgia. But wait, such mass produced pieces of "art" are perfect examples of the "culture industry," the way that capitalism co-opted art to psyche out the working class according to Theodor Adorno and Clement Greenberg. So White heightens the contradictions a bit with a little détournment. Oh, and don't forget that they're funny.

Wayne White, Took the Bad Acid by the River and Watched the Meaningless Water, 2013, acrylic on found offset lithograph, 30 x 66 inches

It's the last part that's important. If these paintings had a different vibe--for example, if they chided you instead of making you laugh--no one would like them. On the other hand, they might be taken more seriously. Which would be tragic.

Wayne White, UH HUH, 2013, acrylic on found offset lithograph, 25 x 31 1/2 inches

The problem with jokes is that they are only funny the first hundred times or so. That's why it's hard to imagine owning a Wayne White painting. (It's also hard to imagine because they range from fourteen to twenty-two thousand dollars.) You hang it on the wall of your home and it's funny for a while but after awhile the joke might start to wear on you. Maybe you take it down and put it in a closet. Then you forget about it. But maybe five, 10 years later you find it again. It makes you laugh anew. That's my advice to collectors for the display of Wayne White paintings.


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