How L.A. artist Wayne White captured the ‘curdled American dream’ for the cover of X’s ‘Alphabetland’
Los Angeles painter and sculptor Wayne White, who created the striking cover art for X’s new album “Alphabetland,” landed the gig after getting an Instagram message from band cofounder John Doe. White, who is the subject of the 2012 documentary “Beauty Is Embarrassing,” has known X singer Exene Cervenka for more than a decade, so the ask was a no-brainer. White was a serious fan, and this was the first new album from the band’s original lineup — Doe, Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake — in 35 years.
“I was thrilled,” White said on the phone from his home in Los Feliz.
White, 62, creates his immediately identifiable “word paintings,” as he calls them, by tapping thrift-store art for use as canvases and backdrops. He then paints words, phrases or sentences — “beauty is embarrassing,” “your lameass theory,” “all that thinkin’ for nothin’,” for example — into the foreground.
“It makes a great graphic. It’s a natural,” White says of the approach. “So they give me the name of the record. They had a few ideas. I had a few ideas,” White adds, chuckling that, “I talked them into my ideas.” He corrects himself: “We came to an agreement.”
The thrift-store painting used for “Alphabetland” shows a ramshackle rural home tucked amid an overgrown yard, some busted-up wagons and boats and a fishing pond dotted with ducks. In a corner, guys are getting ready to go fishing. Stretched across the landscape, White has painted the album title in primary colors, with paint-chipped lettering that bends as if being viewed through a concave lens. Underneath it sits an imposing X.
On the phone from his home in Austin, Texas, Doe said that he’s long admired White’s work and that Cervenka has one of his paintings hanging on her wall. “I was always taken by that painting, and with the [album] title, Wayne just seemed to fit right in.” Doe added that he was struck by “the fact that the mansion is kind of tumbled down, and everything that’s behind the title is broken and in decay. That’s perfect.”
“I called it the ‘Curdled American Dream’,” said White. “As everybody knows, they are a great American band, one of the greatest punk bands of all time. The grandiosity of the letters proclaims that, yet if you look closer, it’s in decline, like our country. And I very much see them as one of the voices of America.”
White moved to Los Angeles in 1990, but even before then he’d made a dent in pop culture. As the main puppet-maker for the children’s show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” White was responsible for bringing to life characters including Chairy, Pterri and Randy. He’s also done album covers for bands including Lambchop and the Glands. Currently, White is flexing his puppetry muscle on Instagram with a series of lockdown-driven 30-second puppet shows called “The WW Puppet Show.”
Asked about his life during lockdown, White said he was fine.
“Like like most artists, this really isn’t that different for me. I work alone at home all day long, and I always have.”
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