Terry Allen

Terry Allen, photo by Pino Bertelli
Terry Allen, photo by Pino Bertelli

Terry Allen is an internationally recognized visual artist and songwriter who occupies an utterly unique position straddling the disparate, and usually distant, worlds of conceptual art and country music. As Ken Johnson has observed in The New York Times, “There is just one person whose art has been seen in highbrow museums around the country and is an inductee of the Buddy Holly Walk of Fame in Lubbock. He is Terry Allen.”

For more than fifty years, Allen has dedicated himself to confounding popular perceptions of contemporary art and country, and the traditional mutual alienation of their respective core audiences. His wide-ranging, border-crossing career reveals important insights about interdisciplinarity and collaboration, bridging and belying the widening divisions that define and distort American culture and politics, now more than ever. As Allen sometimes quips, “People tell me it’s country music, and I ask, ‘Which country?’”

Allen’s art resides in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and has been exhibited at Documenta and the São Paolo, Paris, Sydney, and Whitney Biennials. You can encounter his wry public art commissions across the United States.

He is the recipient of Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts, and US Artists fellowships and numerous other awards. His art has been acclaimed by ArtforumFriezeNew York TimesLos Angeles Times, New Yorker, and ArtNews. He has frequently worked closely with his wife of nearly sixty years, the actor, writer, and artist Jo Harvey Allen, and has likewise collaborated on projects with Bruce Nauman, Margaret Jenkins, and Allen Ruppersberg, among others.

As a musician, Allen has released more than a dozen albums, including the cinematic masterpiece Juarez (1975) and Lubbock (on everything) (1979), often cited as one of the most influential country albums ever. He has collaborated with David Byrne, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Joe Ely, Don Everly, Butch Hancock, and Lucinda Williams, and his haunting and hilarious songs have been covered and championed by the likes of Bobby Bare, Ryan Bingham, Richard Buckner, Jason Isbell, Little Feat, Sturgill Simpson, and Kurt Vile.

Allen’s most recent album is Just Like Moby Dick, featuring the full Panhandle Mystery Band, including co-producer Charlie Sexton (Dylan, Bowie, Blaze), Shannon McNally, Jo Harvey Allen, and mainstays Bukka Allen, Richard Bowden, and Lloyd Maines. The connections to Melville’s masterpiece are metaphorical and allusive, as elusive as the White Whale. The album is the spiritual successor to Lubbock (on everything) and casts its net wide for wild stories depicting, among other monstrous things, Houdini in existential crisis, the death of the last stripper in town, bloodthirsty pirates (in a pseudo-sequel to Brecht and Weill’s “Pirate Jenny”), a vampire-infested circus, mudslides and burning mobile homes, and all manner of tragicomic disasters, abandonments, betrayals, bad memories, failures, and fare-thee-wells.

In March 2024, Hachette will publish the definitive, authorized biography of Allen, Truckload of Art, by Brendan Greaves.

online resources

Paradise of Bachelors profile

Video: Terry Allen on Austin City Limits