Once a month, Steve White makes the trek from his Albuquerque studio to East Palace Avenue’s Todos Santos Chocolates & Confections, his highest-volume retailer, to unload his latest batch of “outsider art.”
He’s driving his trusty silver-toned one-speed and how he didn’t get into an accident is anyone’s guess, as his face is covered in a lucha libre mask embellished with his medium of choice, PEZ containers.
“I got a blemish,” he says of the purpose behind the mask. Later, he mentions that the hood—adorned with Yosemite Sam, Pluto and Garfield heads—helps protect his secret identity (nevermind that he appears in full maskless glory on the homepage for his website,
“I like to go incog , ’cause I think it’s neat-o,” he says.
The face guise, it turns out, is part of a bigger PEZ-adorned getup—which includes
, shoes and, soon, even his Schwinn bike.
“I’ve got Pussy Riot and a nice witch,” the peddler, opening his pack, tells shop owner Hayward Simoneaux.
The nicer parts of the witch, turn out to be huge Jack-o’-lantern knockers—White’s signature—which not only take the sexy sorceress to “another level,” but also give the beloved children’s staple a decidedly adult feel. But White will be the first to point out that he’s not a boob man.
“Otherwise, you can’t see ’em,” he says, adding, “I actually like small boobs.”
“They do keep getting bigger,” Simoneaux points out, recalling that a recent Kim Kardashian PEZcarnation was so top-heavy that it couldn’t be displayed standing up.
“That might have been,” White rebuffs, “but I had a butt on her to balance her out.”
The brainchild of
, PEZ candy (“Pez” being the first, middle and last letters of the German word for peppermint—their original flavor), first appeared in the 1920s in tin containers. By the time they crossed the pond post-WWII, Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus heads topped PEZ’ now-trademark dispensers, and a pop culture frenzy was sprung.
White, who has no childhood recollection of the candy or its collectible containers, first noticed them in the ’90s, and by the early 2000s—realizing their endless customizable options—was hooked.
“[They’re] the perfect weight and I just love paintin’ on ’em,” the 49-year-old says.
White’s pieces, which retail for $35 apiece, are intricate and unique objets d’art that take White around eight hours to complete. Think: King Tut, katchinas and religious figures like St. Sebastian, which he crafts by hand, refusing to use any molds.
Others, like “a Cinderella with an ass,” Elvis Pezley, a zombie Amy Winehouse and “a penis PEZ with balls” are more playful.
There’s also a Breaking Bad set that a buddy told him recently went viral on
. White actually didn’t see it (he doesn’t own a computer), but it was a proud moment nonetheless.
The series features Walter’s, Skyler’s and the rest of the characters’ faces painted a “meth blue” hue.
“Evidently, it’s the most purest form of meth you can get,” he explains.
Feeling that he might be pushing the envelope is something he's never experienced. "Sometimes I feel like I don't push it enough," he says, confidently and showing off an "Obamney" (half Obama/half Romney) creation.
“That’s my shot at the Republican-Democratic party, which I think are the same,” he says.
Another recent edition is a Vampire/Paul Ryan hybrid, which features a unique inscription on its side.
“Hello, my name is Paul Ryan,” White reads, “I want to suck your soul, your spirit, your life, money, your 401k, Medicare, Social Security and oh yeah…your blood.”
With no proper artistic training other than a painting lesson his mom, a hobbyist tole painter, gave him and a high school ceramics class, his work has reached the higher echelons of PEZ, where, he says, company brass knows him by name.
“I’ve been in stories that go along with the CEO of PEZ,” White says, claiming that, because of the notoriety of those news stories, the company “would have been OK to hire me ’cause I have all kinds of ideas on sets that they could do.”
Sets that, echoing the social injustice of his earlier “
” work, would chronicle, among other things, the struggle for civil rights.
“I want to do a package that’s Rosa Parks’ bus and then have civil rights leaders in it and maybe even James Blake, the driver of the Rosa Parks bus,” he says. And “maybe a KKK guy—a KKK terrorist guy, you know, to balance it out.”
“I used to do a lot more heavy-hittin’ art. I like this because it makes people smile, and it just crosses all boundaries,” he adds. “I mean…everybody loves PEZ, right?”
White realizes that some of his aspirations might be far-fetched, but he isn’t afraid of playing the waiting game in hopes that his radical PEZ ship will one day come in.
“This is 13 years into it and, you know, I have people go, ‘OK, is the PEZ phase over?’ And I go, ‘no,’ and they’re like, ‘How about now?’ I’m like, ‘no,’” he says.
“It’s taken over now. So, it just keeps goin’.”
Watch White in all his glory bellow: