In the mythology of John Fahey, his paintings are true relics, talismans that carry the current of a different dimension. These paintings are precious not only for their beauty and energy, but because relatively few of them survived the conditions in which they were made. John lived and worked in a state of precarity. As an artist, John was a prolific and innovative experimenter in the mediums of sound, language, and image. Unfortunately, many of his paintings disappeared. He had an uneasy relationship to the idea of audience and he sometimes treated his art dismissively. When speaking to devoted fans or critics who were eager to discuss his contributions, he often disavowed his accomplishments. “I don’t think that what I’ve done in music is particularly important,” he told The Wire when they put him on the cover in 1998. I got to know John in the late nineties, when I was editing his book How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life, and it’s worth noting that John had to pull the physical copies of those stories out of the trash, where he had thrown them. For John, death and decay were central and unresolvable elements in the endlessly repeating pattern of existence. Paper, if not protected, decomposes quickly back into the earth.

Early in his childhood, John learned to survive the trauma of familial abuse by escaping into his own private mythology. He loved rough edges and was bored by the bland, the beige, and the smooth. He described emotional states in terms of strong colors: the violence of red, the negation of black. He always operated from the center of his own point of view, but he wasn’t closed off to outside influence. He writes with genuine affection about his friend Henry Vestine’s obsession with the aesthetics of plastic, which helped him articulate, in contrast, his own particular orientation. “My specialty has always been interpretation in the fields of reptiles and mud,” he writes. He did his work in the fields of reptiles and mud, he interpreted what he saw and heard in a place that was beyond place. A dimension so old and earth-based as to be inaccessible and alien to most modern (“under control”) minds. John Fahey was a great investigator of that deep and ancient underground pulse. His paintings, like his music and his stories, are alive with that strange, dangerous, magnetic intelligence that entered our world through his labors. John Fahey may no longer be here with us among the forms, but his relics remain, souvenirs brought back from those loamy, cold-blooded fields.

–Damian Rogers

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