Currently reading : John Fahey’s Paintings
John Fahey is perhaps best known as the much revered avant-garde guitarist who incorporated aspects of the likes of folk, blues, and bluegrass to classical music, musique concrete, and noise in his primarily acoustic guitar-based compositions. During his lifetime he was considered an icon, changing the sonic landscape of guitar music on a monumental scale.
However, what is less known about Fahey’s already impressive career is his work as a painter. These psychedelic, naive and timeless paintings are the work of the guitar legend. Later on in his life he extended his so-called American Primitive approach beyond music, and into the development of paintings created in make-shift studios around Salem, Oregon.
Painting on found poster board and discarded spiral notebook paper, working with tempera, acrylic, spray paint, and magic marker, Fahey’s intuitive approach echoes the action found through his music. Many of these paintings were used by Fahey to barter with for hospitality while he lived on the road and in motels, and others were given away or discarded. Passing away in 2001, his paintings are refreshingly devoid of any of the then contemporary art practice, creating these pieces of art work solely through his own isolated creative practice. Starting the practice again in the 1990s after it being a childhood hobby, in the book’s essay by critic Bob Nickas, Fahey’s former wife Melody recalls one of his common creative processes: “He made these small paintings by putting the powder into wet phone books and then he’d stomp on them…” she says.
New York’s Audio Visual Arts gallery curator Justin Luke said: “Around 2009 I was having a conversation about Fahey with an artist I’d been working with called John Andrew. We were both old fans of Fahey’s and knew he’d painted. Andrew had lived in Portland in the 90s and been to performances where the paintings were being sold at the merch table instead of CDs. He’d spoken to Fahey about including the works in a show he was organising, but it never happened.”
Luke and Andrew then contacted Fahey’s estate to ask what had happened to the paintings, and were directed to an old roomate who had bought them and, as they later discovered, had them stored them under a bed. “We made a trip out there to view the works and were blown away,” says Luke. “Since then I’ve been working with the paintings,” he says, “helping them to be exhibited and placed into collections.”
This new book published by Inventory Press is the first publication focussing on his visual output; John Fahey: Paintings is illustrated with 92 plates and is accompanied by essays from Keith Connolly, founding member of No-Neck Blues Band, and the critic Bob Nickas.
You can buy the book here