Crafty Hats: Jack White’s Visual Art Website Is a Pleasant Surprise
The musician brings his exuberance to other disciplines as well
Rock and roll, blues, garage folk, and maybe something along the lines of country-infused barn punk might be among the descriptors one would come up with when reflecting on Jack White’s ranging genre tendencies as a musician. He’s broadly polyphonic, in other words, whether playing in bands, cutting tracks on his own or producing tunes for others. Even while often wearing the same hat, or not wearing one at all, White has a trademark penchant for wearing many hats — and always skillfully, creatively so. His one hat is an acute attention to craft. His many hats are the many kinds of craft into which he gets his hands.
Regarding his musical craft specifically, White’s skilled hands are certainly crucial. A celebrated guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, record-cutter, and dutiful enthusiast and deployer of all things analog, he pays attention to inputs and details in manners very keenly manual. From strings and frets to keys and soundboards, White is hands-on, hands-in, hands-around. He has three hands. Maybe four.
Or five, even. For augmenting all of that, White seems to be an avid researcher, too. He has an awareness of not only how and why he does the things that he does musically, but also of the deeper social histories of such things, the cultural contexts that allowed for their emergence, and the musicological narratives that formed and accompanied them — and that paved the way for him to try to nudge them in new directions.
In sum, White’s breadth of musical know-how and acumen is impressive. Yet even so, he certainly isn’t alone among musicians, contemporary or otherwise, in bringing so much agency to his work. Nor is he alone among musicians with such ranging, consistently prodigious output to perhaps number far more casually enthusiastic followers of his various hits and activities than diehard, doting fans ever-anxiously awaiting his next release. If such is the case, something tells me he’s not the type who’d mind it an awful lot. From playing with a number of bands and winning awards to launching a music label and buying early Elvis recordings, he doesn’t seem to go about things with tremendous pretense or bombast.
That’s a subjective observation, I admit. Conjectural, even. I might well be wrong.
And that would serve me right, because my subjective views and conjectural thoughts upon hearing announcements of Jack White’s new online platform, for what I initially understood to be “just his artwork,” proved to be very wrong indeed. I figured it was yet another instance of a musician who, come to find out, is a painter too. And I figured the paintings would be decent enough but not particularly remarkable yet nonetheless quickly become inordinately expensive, prized items for so-called savvy collectors. The works I immediately envisioned were copiously textured, striation-heavy abstractions in sheeny palettes limited mostly to punchy reds and deep blacks strewn among scales of gray and generous titanium white.
Well, oops. Foolish assumptions, all of them. In fact, unless there’s a link somewhere I missed as I dug into his site with way more interest than I’d foreseen, one thing I didn’t find a page devoted to is, of course, painting.
What I did discover, however, is a rather captivating display of Whites’s multifarious creative projects, arranged on a smoothly functional website designed with elegance but not flashiness.
What I did discover is not a showy blitz of commercial self-promotion, rather more along the lines of a personal creative archive or catalogue raisonné – all yet in-process, of course. For as a visual artist or designer, he’d only be around the tail end of youngish, generally speaking, or maybe mid-career. Generally speaking, although his art and design practices are many, several of them aren’t evidenced by very much work, or much of it isn’t very recent.
On that note, what I did discover is that Jack White, hat-wearer of deeply skilled craftsmanship as a musician, many-hat wearer as a musical polymath, brings a similar sense of broad interest, exuberance and devotion into his other creative practices as well.
And I discovered, as you’re likely to, as well, is that all of it is at least competent, some of it is quite impressive, and a few things are simply astonishing. And as I did, you’re likely to come away with some favorite projects of his. Surely something will suit your taste, for on offer are visuals, videos and related texts divided up among more than a few disciplines: Industrial, Interiors, Furniture & Upholstery, Graphic, Hardware, Sculpture, Vinyl Concepts, Film & Directing, and Photography.
Just a few of my favorites are Three Pin Alley, Third Man Records Headquarters, The Triple 78 Chair, The Blues Series Concept photos and recordings, a few of his instruments, and the music videos he made for The Black Belles. Regarding the latter, I’m really happy to have also just discovered the band. You’ll see. And hear. Good stuff.
And definitely one of my favorite things White has done is Clark Park Baseball field, which he funded and designed in 2009 to reinvigorate the neighborhood field in Detroit where he played baseball as a kid. It’s simple. Spare. Generally unadorned. All as it should be. I’d like to think that he steered clear of showy and sheeny for this project because it’s where the kids are supposed to show off and shine. I might be wrong yet again, but I’m sticking with that.
I’m also sticking with my dramatically expanded understanding of Jack White as a vastly skilled and deeply curious agent of creativity. He might be at his best as a musician, first and foremost, but his musical hat of meticulous craft, and hats of many musical crafts, have an entirely different significance for me knowing the many other practices in which he has exerted, recently or in the past, similar energies.
I know, he doesn’t really wear hats all that often, and we’ve certainly seen him in more than one. I’m exaggerating. Or plain wrong. But who’s to say he won’t take up millinery?
Anyway, hats off for the fellow’s creativity.
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