Black & Blue–On the Road with Jack White
September 17 – December 8, 2021
Published by Jack White's record label, Third Man Records, the posters on view here were created in conjunction with his Blunderbuss and Lazaretto album releases and subsequent tours of 2012 and 2014-15. Fats Kaplin, one of America’s most inventive instrumentalists who accompanied White on these tours, generously provided over 60 posters from his private collection and coordinated supplemental materials from his bandmate, Dominic Davis, and Third Man Records. Curated from a collection of over 100 posters owned by Kaplin from the two tours, they feature the work of several leading national and international illustrators and graphic artists, including Justin Erickson, Dan Kuhlken, Nathan Goldman, Alan Hynes, Rob Jones, Gary Pullin, Jay Shaw, Todd Slater, Mishka Westell, Tom Whalen, Smithe, Quique Ollervides, and print shops such as the Detroit-based The Silent Giants, and Atlanta, Georgia's Methane Studios.
With few exceptions, the creators of the posters seen here adopted a black and blue palette that mirrored the aesthetic of the tours and Third Man Records' overall design program. Beyond the distinctive color palette and the sheer range of creative vision that these illustrators brought to bear, there are a couple of interesting thematic threads found in the posters on view. A reflection of Jack White's obsession with baseball is evident in the four baseball-themed posters stylized after vintage baseball cards by the illustrator Rob Jones. Jones replaces the heads of the ball players with images ranging from the philosopher Nietzsche, to the Egyptian god Horus, to Sigmund Freud, to Jack White himself. Adding to the overall tongue-in-cheek design is that on the verso, one finds an "advertisement" for Lazaretto Cigarillos (White is known for smoking this kind of diminutive cigar) along with information about the show he played while on tour in support of Lazaretto. The all-access band passes featured in the exhibition also take on a baseball theme, and like the posters, they were based on early American baseball cards, and in this instance, emblazoned with "AAA" in bold letters – a reference to the Triple-A baseball minor league.
Another set of posters that extended a design approach across multiple works are three The Silent Giants created for White's shows in Canada for the 2012 Blunderbuss tour. When seen together, two flanking posters surround a third. The posters that bracket the middle poster depict angels with bat-like wings, each shooting arrows into the central figure of a more traditionally realized angel. The central angel seems to be taking it well that while blindfolded, she displays a beatific smile and hands clasped as if in prayer. Arrows also appear in a poster by The Silent Giants for the Charlottesville, VA show that depicts a seated William Tell-like figure. Another poster, this time by Rob Jones, features arrows that finds its source in an Italian Renaissance painting of the martyr, St. Sebastian, for the October 12, 2012, Tulsa performance, just a week after the shows in Canada.
Skulls make several appearances in the posters on view, including one created for White's 2012 Dublin, Ireland show on Halloween, and another for his July 27, 2014 show at Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA. The oversized pair of sentry-like figures with skull heads created by Rob Jones for the two shows White played at Alexandra Palace, London in the fall of 2012 that are brilliant examples of graphic arts and poster design and worth noting.
Segueing to the concerts, the posters that were commissioned for the 2012 world tour in support of Jack White’s debut solo album, Blunderbuss, featured two supporting back-up bands. One was called the "Peacocks," and were an all-female band, and the other, the "Buzzards," an all-male band. In recent conversations with Fats Kaplin in his Nashville home, he recounted that neither band knew who was playing until the morning of the show. As noted in an interview in the UK-based, The Guardian, White explained that "[I wanted] to make it harder on myself. I really don't like to take the easy way out, if I can help it, on anything I do, I like to really make it a challenge. I don't know how to create by taking the easy routes." While not financially the best business model, it helped keep the concerts fresh and the fans guessing who would play a given show. In addition, White performed several pop-up shows that would be announced 30 minutes prior via social media in low-brow places such as tire shops and candy stores reflected White's desire to "imbue mystery and a sense of surprise in a world that was almost impossible to attain, musically speaking," as Kaplin observed.
The Lazaretto tour of 2014-15 had a mainly male band apart from the musician, Lillie Mae Rische. The same tour was marked by tragedy when Isaiah "Ikey" Owens died in the early hours of October 14, 2014, after the Puebla, Mexico show. Posters from that show and the one that would have followed at Teatro Estudio Cavaret in Guadalajara, are each included here. In addition to these remarkable posters and the set of all-access passes noted earlier, three box sets from the period, a gift to the exhibition project by Third Man Records, are also featured. Both the record sets, posters and all that surrounded these two albums and tours, reflect White's driving ambition and relentless work ethic that places him in a league of his own, baseball pun intended.