Crafty Hats: Jack White’s visual art website is a pleasant surprise

Rock and roll, blues, garage folk, and perhaps something like country-infused barn punk might be among the descriptors one would find when reflecting on Jack White’s varied genre tendencies as a musician. In other words, he’s largely polyphonic, whether he’s playing in bands, cutting tracks on his own, or producing tracks for others. Although he often wears the same hat, or doesn’t wear one at all, White has a penchant for wearing many hats – and always skillfully, creatively. Its only hat is an acute attention to craftsmanship. His many hats are the many trades he gets his hands on.

When it comes to his musical artistry specifically, White’s skilled hands are certainly crucial. A celebrated guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, record cutter, enthusiast and devoted deployer of all things analog, he pays attention to input and detail in a very hands-on way. From strings and frets to fingerboards and soundboards, White is practical, practical, practical. He has three hands. Maybe four.

Or five, even. To add to all of this, White also appears to be an avid researcher. He knows not only how and why he does the things he does musically, but also the deeper social histories of those things, the cultural contexts that allowed their emergence, and the musicological narratives that shaped and accompanied them – and that paved the way to try to push them in new directions.

In sum, the extent of White’s musical skill and insight is impressive. Yet even so, he is certainly not alone among musicians, contemporary or otherwise, to bring so much agency to his work. Nor is he alone among musicians with such a varied and prodigious output to have perhaps far more enthusiastic followers of his various successes and pursuits than die-hard, avid fans who always eagerly await his next release. If so, something tells me he’s not one to care that much. From playing with a number of bands and winning awards, to starting a music label and buying Elvis’ early recordings, he doesn’t seem to do things with huge pretension or pump.

It’s a subjective observation, I agree. Conjectural, even. I could well be wrong.

And that would do me good, because my subjective opinions and conjectural thoughts upon hearing the announcements of Jack White’s new online platform, because what I initially understood to be “just his work of art”, turned out to be very wrong. I thought this was yet another example of a musician who, to find out, is also a painter. And I thought the paintings would be pretty decent but not particularly noteworthy but nevertheless would quickly become excessively expensive and prized objects for so-called savvy collectors. The works I immediately envisioned were copiously textured, streak-heavy abstractions in glossy palettes limited mostly to punchy reds and deep blacks interspersed with generous grayscales and titanium whites.

The blue series

Jack White Art and Design

Well, oops. Stupid assumptions, all. In fact, unless there’s a link somewhere that I missed while rummaging through his site with much more interest than I anticipated, one thing I couldn’t find dedicated page is, of course, painting.

What I discovered, however, was a rather captivating display of Whites’ multiple creative projects, laid out on a perfectly functional website that was elegantly designed but not flashy.

What I discovered was not a flashy blitz of commercial self-promotion, but rather a personal creative archive or catalog raisonné – all still in progress, of course. Because as a visual artist or designer, he would only be at the end of his youth, in general, or perhaps mid-career. Generally speaking, although his art and design practices are numerous, many of them are not evidenced by much work, or much of it is not very recent.
On that note, what I’ve discovered is that Jack White, wearer of hats of deeply skilled craftsmanship as a musician, wearer of many hats as a musical polymath, brings a similar sense of general interest, exuberance and devotion in his other creative practices as well.

And I’ve found, as you probably will too, that all of it is at least competent, some of it is quite impressive, and some of it is just plain amazing. And like I did, you’ll probably walk away with some of his favorite projects. Surely something will suit your taste, as you will find related visuals, videos and texts spread across several disciplines: Industrial, Interiors, Furniture and upholstery, Graphic, Equipment, Sculpture, Vinyl Concepts, Film & Directingand Photography.

A few of my favorites are three prong driveway, Third Man Records Headquarters, The Triple 78 chair, The concept of the Blues series photos and recordings, some of his instruments and the music videos he made for The beautiful blacks. Regarding the latter, I’m really happy to have also discovered the group. You will see. And hear. Good product.

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 Detroit neighborhood field where he played baseball as a child. It’s simple. Spare. Generally no frills. Just as it should. I like to think he avoided show and shine for this project because that’s where kids are supposed to show off and shine. I may be wrong again, but I’ll stick with it.

I also stand by my vastly expanded understanding of Jack White as an extremely competent and deeply inquisitive agent of creativity. He may be at his best as a musician, first and foremost, but his musical hat of meticulous craft, and his hats of many musical crafts, have an entirely different meaning to me knowing the many other practices in which there have been exerted, recently or in the past, similar energies.

I know, he doesn’t really wear hats very often, and we’ve definitely seen him in more than one. I exaggerate. Or downright wrong. But who can say that he will not make millinery?

Anyway, hats off to the creativity of the guy.