Jones' artwork earns grammy nod

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

AUSTIN, Texas -- Some people are content to sit back and let life happen to them. Rob Jones is not one of those people.

The Albany native, who is in demand as a graphic artist/designer in Texas' capital city, turned his talent, his love for a Detroit-area rock band and his willingness to do whatever it takes to display his work into a gig that last month landed him a surprising Grammy nomination.

Jones is listed alongside Jack White III, the musical genius behind the rock duo White Stripes, as art director on the Stripes' DVD/CD box set "Under Great White Northern Lights," which was nominated as Best Boxed or Special Limited Addition Package. Grammys will be handed out at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Feb. 13.

"Oh, I'm very excited, very happy to be nominated," the low-key Jones replied when an excited-for-him reporter notes that he doesn't seem to be making a big deal of the Grammy nom. "I actually wish we were up against some weak competition, but there are some awesome nominees.

"This was a collosal project to work on, but -- win or lose -- I don't know if (the Grammy nomination) will change my life that much. I'll put it on my resume, and I've been told I'll get a bronze medallion just for being nominated. That'll be cool to hang from the goat's head above my computer."

Jones' work for the White Stripe is the product of his whimsy and his willingness to step above and beyond the ordinary boundaries that limit most people. He was doing storyboard work for an ad agency when he discovered from a friend that there was a lucrative market in creating unique rock music posters.

His friend, Jeff Peveto, was doing such work for the Flaming Lips, the Hold Steady and Decoder Ring, so Jones inquired how he could get in on the act.

"Jeff said, 'Just call the venue where the band is playing'," Jones said. "That sounded pretty simple."

Jones looked into the touring schedule of two of his favorite bands: the White Stripes and the Cramps. The Stripes had a show in Leon, France, that fit into his busy work schedule, so the designer set to work on his creation and used a little deception to land the gig.

"I had a friend, Olivier, who is French call up the venue and pretend to be me," Jones said. "They couldn't believe an American could speak French so well, and that's probably part of the reason I got the job."

The American artist sent 50 posters along with his business cards, and they were used by the venue to promote the White Stripes' show.

A few days later Jones got a call from an angry member of the Stripes' crew.

"Their tour manager called me up, and he was very upset," Jones said. "He told me everyone was upset that I'd done the posters without the band's permission, really dressed me down. He said (the Stripes) were really cracking down on unauthorized use of their name."

Then the angry manager switched gears.

"After he got through yelling at me, he told me everyone associated with the White Stripes loved the posters," Jones said. "He said Jack wanted to use my work on the band's U.S. tour."

Jones created five posters that were approved for a Stripes tour that was subsequently cancelled when Jack White was in a car accident, so he used the downtime to create other designs. White, who has a hand in every detail of the Stripes' business, was so impressed he commissioned Jones to work with the band.

Photographer Autumn de Wilde sent what Jones called incredible photographs from the Stripes' Canadian tour that was turned into "Under Great White Northern Lights." Jones used the photos and a rough cut of the documentary of that tour to come up with design ideas for the box set that would land him the Grammy nomination.

"What I've tried to do in working with Jack and Meg (White, the Stripes' drummer and Jack's former wife) is what I think they would want," Jones said. "I've probably read every interview that they've done that I could get my hands on, and from that I try and understand what they would want and put my stamp on it.

"I submit my stuff and wait for feedback from Jack. He's an incredible guy, and he has a say in every artistic element of whatever work the White Stripes or any of his other projects release."

Jones was born in Albany, moved with his family to Waco, Texas, a short while later, and came back to Southwest Georgia when he was entering the eighth grade after a brief stay in Cleveland, Tenn. He enrolled in Deerfield-Windsor School, where English teacher Charles Hawkins would impact his life greatly.

"Dr. Hawkins was one of the reasons I enjoyed Deerfield so much," Jones said. "If you look at some of my posters, the images in them come from his class. He taught me to understand symbolism, and that became a big part of what I do."

Hawkins, who retired five years ago at age 82 to care for his wife, is a teacher of legendary reputation. He worked in education for 55 years before retiring, and along the way was named a distinguished American teacher.

Hawkins started his career at the University of Cincinnati, found the college level of instruction not to his liking, and spent decades in teaching and administrative positions at various college preporatory schools: the Baylor School in Chattanooga, Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Thornwood School and the Darlington School in Rome and finally at Deerfield-Windsor. It was only after serving as director of D-W's upper and middle schools for eight years that Hawkins actually returned to his initial passion: the classroom.

"I'd retired, but the board and headmaster told me they were having trouble finding a junior English teacher," Hawkins, who still lives in Albany, said. "I told them I'd take the position if I had no administrative duties, and I settled into that idyllic situation until I retired to tend to my wife's medical issues."

While teaching English to college prep students at Deerfield, Hawkins was named STAR teacher seven times and was twice selected as distinguised national teacher by the school's pair of presidential scholars.

And while the list of names who came under Hawkins' tutelage is a long one, he says he distinctly remembers Jones.

"I remember Rob was a very sound student," Hawkins said. "I taught him a long time ago, but my memories of him are very positive."

Jones graduated Deerfield in 1991, earned magna cum laude designation while studying Modern Classics at Vanderbilt University and later furthered his academic career at the Savannah College of Art & Design and at the University of Texas, where he earned a master's degree.

Jones met Jennifer Pate, who was "wrapping gifts at Gayfer's," when they were in high school, and the couple later married at St. Teresa's Catholic Church in Albany.

The artist, whose work is on display at the website animalrummy.com, creates posters and other artwork for the unique Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, an arthouse that hosts special screenings of movies by auteurs who are legendary in pop culture. Among the movies he's created works for are the "Star Wars" series, the recent "Iron Man" movies and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," which was based on a graphic novel series.

"There's some pretty cool stuff I'm involved with right now that I can't talk about," Jones said. "I'm also doing a series for some (musical) discs from the Criterion Collection. I'm doing one for a White Stripes reissue single and a release in honor of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet, who died recently)."

If Jones and White win their Grammy -- other nominees include "Light: On the South Side" and "Story Island," both works that include various artists' contributions; the Pixies' "Minotaur (Deluxe Edition)," and Klaus Voorman and Friends' "A Sideman's Journey" -- the graphic artist who is part of team White Stripes already knows what he'll do.

"I'm not making a speech," Jones said. "I'll go up, get the Grammy, then sit down."