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Jimi Hendrix

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A long time before he grew to prominence as a rock God, Jimi Hendrix was just an ordinary high school kid from Renton, Seattle, the US of A, with a thing for sports and an interest in hydroplane racing, not forgetting a passion for art. In fact, it wasn’t until his mid-teens that he picked up a guitar and showed absolutely no indication as to what direction his future career would take. As we all know, tragically his career (both musical and artistic) was cut short at the age of 27, and like most rock stars who die young, in mysterious circumstances. But to rewind to his youth, and Hendrix simply loved to drawn and paint anything and everything during his school years. One of his primary subject matters which inspired his early art was automobiles, which he drew daily in the backs of his school exercise books, and which were said to be of impressive artistic order; so much so that Hendrix sent some of them to the head offices of the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. So there you have it, Jimi Hendrix may well have turned out to be a car designer in an alternative life.

Aside from cars, Hendrix visually documented pictures and portraits of events and activities in which he attended on a regular basis whilst growing up in and around Seattle during the mid to late 1950s. Boat races, football players and army scenes being the usual pictorial suspects. One key muse of Hendrix’s around this time were those aforementioned boat races, or in particular, hydroplane races which were all the rage on Lake Washington during this era. Hendrix attended a raft of races and made it his artistic business to paint all the boats that lined up for the races around this time. These watercolour studies depicted much detail and came to the attention of many of his peers and teachers, who were all suitably impressed with the results. Hendrix’s muses expanded, and as he tested and challenged his skillset these would eventually take in the nearby Cascade Mountain range and Mount Rainer specifically. Hendrix recalled to his biographer in later years that as a teenager he had been obsessed with the port of Seattle, and in the late 50s painted several images comprising his native Seattle waterfront and skyline. His watercolour portraits of buildings were positively alive with colour and event, along with geometric shapes as one might expect from Hendrix.

In the end – and fast forwarding a decade and to the height of his fame and popularity as a musician during the mid to late 1960s – Hendrix’s art changed, and moved a distance away from the style that characterised a relaxed, freer adolescence before the stresses and cracks began to appear a few years down the line. As is no secret, Hendrix was known to experiment with a host of drugs as his music career went stratospheric, with the results definitely interpreted and visually manifest in his art. Gone were the softly water-coloured landscapes, cars, sports scenes and melancholy vistas and horizons, and in its place came a collection of gregariously, almost frantically painted figures direct from his subconscious, and brought to pictorial fruition it’s fair to say with a little help from the mind-bending effects of LSD and other such hallucinogenic substances that were de rigour in certain circles back then.

These very abstract creations, seemingly started from doodles which grew in stature to become even more fanciful remained very detailed and intricate in conception, yet belied an intensity that was clearly resultant of a troubled mind. Towering use and applications of colour, Hendrix would weave stories into complex grid and colour patterns that would draw the viewer deeper into Hendrix’s then world, if of course they wished to share his trip. Irrespective of its influence though, these unique compositions were very much alive and magical in many creative ways if judged on that aspect alone, where ethereal scenes would run amok across Hendrix’s canvases and project a more spiritual quality and ambience, much in the same fashion that his music was conveying at the same time.

Latterly a selection of Hendrix’s unseen art has aired as demand for the rock star’s visual anecdotes has increased, and in surprising circumstances. One of his former roadies came to possess a collection of Hendrix’s pictorial musings, having asked whilst on tour if he could have them, as otherwise they were set to be discarded by the musician. These rare pieces were obtained in the late 1970s, and the roadie in question told of how Hendrix would either write songs or draw and paint whilst on the road, yet most of the drawings would end up in the bin. Andy Wright recalls; “I remember saying to him: ‘don’t throw them away, give them to me'. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, to be honest. I’ve only just found them again. I had them folded up and stashed away in a brown envelope somewhere.”