Jad Fair hasn’t just proven himself as a distinctive and original voice in one art form. He’s earned that reputation in two.
His seminal work with art-punk band Half Japanese and his extensive releases as solo musical artist helped birth his accomplished visual arts practice. His output in both effortlessly embraces life and finds beauty in natural, unforced expression.
And Fair’s output remains vital as ever. Even though his music career — which includes dozens of albums, collaborations with the Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker, NYC downtown legend John Zorn, revered Texas outsider artist Daniel Johnston, Teenage Fanclub, Yo La Tengo, the Pastels and tours with Nirvana and Lou Reed — has spanned decades, he’s lost none of the inspired joy that’s infused his work since Half Japanese’s 1974 inception.
That same joy animates Fair’s intricate papercuts, hundreds of which will be featured in “A Happier Happiness,” his visual art show opening Saturday, March 12 at San Antonio’s Space C7 as part of Contemporary Art Month. He’ll be on hand for the opening and perform a music set as well.
Fair first developed his papercutting technique to alleviate tour boredom, and it eventually grew to grace many of his own album covers. Since then, it’s been exhibited worldwide and compiled in four books.
“Music and artwork, it all comes from the same part of the brain,” Fair said in a recent phone interview. “For me, it all comes so easy. I don’t really need to think about it. I’m sure there is some thought process, but it’s not something I need to be aware of. It just kind of flows. It has a real natural feel.”
Tapping into this effortless flow, Fair has produced a mind-boggling number of records. And he still gigs regularly, including a planned Sunday, March 27 performance at Echo Bridge as part of CAM’s closing ceremony.
Starting with friendship
For many music fans, the entry point to Fair’s work is through his collaborations with other musicians.
“Collaboration usually starts with friendship,” Fair said. “That’s how it happened with Daniel [Johnston], and it was the same with the Pastels or Teenage Fanclub or Yo La Tengo. These are people that I knew and became friends with, and then later it felt natural just to do some recording.”
In the case of Yo La Tengo, with whom Fair recorded the 1998 album Strange but Truethe musical partnership stemmed from his decades-long friendship with band singer-guitarist Ira Kaplan.
“I first met Ira in 1978,” Fair said. “He bought the first Half Japanese single. Usually, I’d include a thank you note in orders, but sometimes they’d write back again, and it’d turn from a note into a letter. And then into a friendship.”
As testament to Half Japanese’s cultlike status, Nirvana picked the band to open its In Utero tour.
“It surprised me that the audience was a lot younger,” Fair recalled. “High school kids. The first night we had some fast songs and some slow ones. The fast songs went over well, and the slow ones just bombed. So, after the first night we only played fast songs.”
Half Japanese also opened for Lou Reed, while serving as Moe Tucker’s backing band. Undaunted by working with the greats, Fair takes it all in stride. “It was great,” he said.
Not far to go
Fair’s San Antonio art opening and show are practically in his own backyard. He moved to Texas 23 years ago, settling near Austin.
“I got married and my wife was living in Texas, and I thought, well, as long as we’re married, I might as well live with her,” he said. “I grew up in Michigan and I just got so tired of the long winters. The warmer weather really appeals to me.”
Despite his proximity to the Alamo City, Fair admits he hasn’t spent much time here.
“I like it a lot, though. There are several nice homes and I really like the palm trees,” he said. “Austin has some palm trees, but San Antonio’s seem much healthier.”
During Fair’s Echo Bridge show, he plans to include numerous songs by Johnston, his late collaborator. The pair worked together on the classic 1989 album It’s Spooky†
“We recorded that entire album in one week’s time,” Fair said. “When he first came down, my thought was we’d record the songs and Daniel would leave and I would do the mixing, but Daniel really wanted to be there for the mixing, which meant we had to do a lot in just a week . But we got it done. A lot of hours.”
Like his other collaborations, that one began with friendship and mutual admiration.
“I first heard Daniel’s music around 1985,” Fair said. “Half Japanese played a show in Austin and Daniel’s manager, Jeff Tartakov, gave us a copy of Hi, How Are You? We just played it over and over again — loved it. And I started corresponding with Daniel and then started spending a good bit of time with him.”
Like Johnston, whose work also spanned visual art and music, Fair’s work celebrates innocence and a freedom from restraint — things that can’t help but make fans feel a little freer themselves.
C7’s ancillary galleries will feature work by Steve Cruz, MJ Hernandez, Jeff F. Wheeler, Wynn Doe, Gary Sweeney, Hills Snyder, Franco Mondini Ruiz, Daniel Johnston and others.
Fair’s exhibition is sponsored by Nina Hassele. The Contemporary Art Month Closing Ceremonies are presented by Southwest School of Art, Sala Diaz and Dorćol Distilling + Brewing Co.
“A Happier Happiness,” Free, Saturday, March 12-Saturday, April 30, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, Space C7, 2450 Roosevelt Ave., (806) 392-1915, thesouth-side.com. Reception: Saturday, March 12, 6-9 pm
CAM Closing Ceremonies, Free, Sunday, March 27, 7-10 pm, Space C7, 2450 Roosevelt Ave., (806) 392-1915, thesouth-side.com.
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