Time Out New York / September 7, 2010

John Fahey

Many visual artists make what can be loosely described as rock music at some point in their careers, but the converse happens almost as often. And while transcendent instrumentalists can transmogrify into woefully banal painters (e.g., Keith Richards), some make respectable contributions to their adopted practice (Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart). Guitarist John Fahey actually began as a painter, but gave it up early on in order to pursue an extraordinary and influential recording and performing career. Marshaling elements of every acoustic genre from hillbilly to musique concrète, Fahey, who died in 2001, was an independent before “independent” (let alone “alternative”) music existed, and the cream of his output has a strange and timeless power.

Fahey had a second go at painting in the 1990s, but while this was a prolific phase, it’s difficult to assess his achievement from the modest selection at AVA. The gallery’s seven examples suggest the work of a self-taught Expressionist drifting into a zone of visionary abstraction, which might be said to mirror his more oblique compositions in sound.

Four works on poster board feature webs and fields of tempera, layered under and over blasts of spray paint, while three smaller works on paper corral splotches of brighter color, sometimes incorporating bold marker outlines to rein in the chaos. The latter, especially one with the Beefheartesque title Female Cat Person Disguised as Skunk Cabbage, are the most satisfying, tempering their maker’s experimental drive with a minor but welcome concession to order.

Image: John Fahey, Untitled, n.d.