Terry Allen grew up in Lubbock, the Panhandle city also home to Buddy Holly. And though it’s about four hundred miles to Mexico, the border has often defined his life and work. After studying at Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) Allen sought about creating work that combined West-Coast Conceptualism with his own music. Starting with his 1968 series Cowboy & Stranger, Allen would fasten a reel-to-reel tape recording of a song to the back of a framed drawing. He called them “Paper Listening Movies.”
These led to the 1975 concept album Juarez, a double-album border corrido that follows four unforgettable characters as they traverse the boundaries of the U.S. and Mexico, sex and murder. Blending spoken word with honky-tonk, it was originally released with a portfolio of prints, and sounded like it was recorded first thing this morning. (It was, as it happens, recorded first thing in the morning; Allen traded some art for recording time at Jefferson Starship’s studio, but the only available slot was at nine a.m.) Allen stayed up the night before recording it, as if to get the sound of vision trails and highway hypnosis down on tape. Juarez is more than seminal, it is a haunting. As its characters hopscotch the border, and as Allen flits formally between pachuco jukebox and LA art school, Juarez shows the artist first surveying the vast cultural terrain he’d spend the coming decades exploring.
With the recent re-release of Juarez and two more of his classic albums—Lubbock (on everything), and Pedal Steal + Four Corners—Allen has found himself in a retrospective mode. The drawings in Some Pictures and Other Songs reflect an ongoing conversation with his literary and musical forebears, as well as fragments of the American landscape. In these poetic and intimate works, lines of text float across the images of movie theater chairs, portraits, trees and horses and motel architecture. The result is something both local and universal, long-gone and eternal. Finally, several of the works also pertain to Allen’s upcoming album, Just Like Moby Dick, which focuses on the harpoon-stuck whale as a symbol of determination. Amidst cultural strife and the latest iteration of the crisis at the Southern border, Allen’s timeless work takes on a new urgency.
Terry Allen is a visual artist and songwriter who was raised in Lubbock, Texas. He graduated from Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and has worked as an artist & musician since 1966. He has received numerous awards and honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship and National Endowment for the Art Fellowships. His work has been shown throughout the United States and internationally, including Documenta and San Paolo, Paris, Sydney & Whitney Biennales and is represented in major private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and L.A. County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (MCASD) and Houston & Dallas Museums of Fine Art.
Allen has recorded 13 albums of original songs, including classics Juarez and Lubbock (on everything), both re-issued in 2016 on Paradise of Bachelors label. His most recent and highly acclaimed Paradise of Bachelors re-issue of Allen’s theater and radio work is Pedal Steal, 2019. His New album Just Like Moby Dickwill be released January 2020 on Paradise of Bachelors. Allen has performed his music throughout the United States and Europe and his songs have been recorded by such diverse artists as Bobby Bare, Guy Clark, Little Feat, Robert Earl Keen, David Byrne, Cracker, Doug Sahm, Ricky Nelson and Lucinda Williams. Terry Allen lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife, actress and writer, Jo Harvey Allen.