Folk art saves folk singer Jim White 

click to enlarge Man of many trades: Folk rocker Jim White — pictured in a self-portrait — financed his latest album by selling art pieces. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • courtesy photo
  • Man of many trades: Folk rocker Jim White — pictured in a self-portrait — financed his latest album by selling art pieces.

A few weeks ago, folk rock raconteur Jim White noticed a tiny thrift store in his hometown of Athens, Ga., he had never seen before.

He was delighted, he says, because it was full of miniature train stuff, and the Namibian owner was out back, working on a hot rod: “Everything was like some David Lynch film. So I bought a pulley wheel, some gorgeous old rope and flat-surfaced screws with little eyeholes in them, and I’m going to make faces with rope and string, coming through those eyeholes — some naive, figurative art stuff.”

In his 25-year career, the jack of all trades has tried his hand at modeling, prose writing, drama scoring, record producing, documentary making and, of course, song composing.

He is backing his mournful new “Where It Hits You” in concert at the Swedish American Hall today.

Without his latest hobby of rustic folk art, he would be nowhere, he says, and this album might not have been made: “Writing a song is like turning on a pressure cooker and watching it until all the seams are about to bust,” is his artistic credo now. “But making art? It’s just such a happy release.”

White needed a cathartic outlet midway through “Hits You.”

With no warning, his wife announced she was leaving him for a younger man, just as he was tracking tunes he expressly penned for her (such as “Infinite Mind” and “Chase the Dark Away”).

“I was in tears for two weeks while I did the vocals,” he says. “I was an emotional wreck because I had to sing those songs, and there was no one to sing them to anymore.”

So White constructed Foot Soldiers — little pie-tin creatures which he sold through a Kickstarter program to finance his foundering sessions.

“I made a lot of happy things to counteract the blue,” he says. “And when I was done, the house was full of all these little people I’d made, and it was a comfort. Then it was an extra comfort, because I was about to lose this house. I was right on the verge of bankruptcy, and when the Kickstarter money came in I had $400 in the bank and $3,000 worth of bills coming due.”

A posh Irish gallery recently ran White’s “Deep Fried Ephemera” exhibit, featuring bulletin boards pinned with curious newspaper clippings he found in the garbage.

“It was incredibly rewarding to have fancy art people consider it aesthetically,” he says of the work. “Because all this visual art I do is about redemption, about taking lost items and giving them a new meaning. Which is what I’ve tried to do with my life, really.”


Jim White

Where: The Swedish American Hall, 2170 Market St., San Francisco

8 p.m. today


Contact: (415) 861-5016,

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Tom Lanham

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