Meet the Artist: Terry Strickland

If Terry Strickland went incognito ... now we would know how to find her ... peering through blinds with her spy camera "on a stakeout as a voyeur ... an observer of humans". When envisioning this portrait, she saw clearly that "If you were on a real stakeout, you've got to have cigarettes and coffee".

An observer has to forgo personal interests and comforts sometimes to get the real story. So, although the Incognito Project can be described as part of her personal journey (we'll talk about that shortly) Strickland takes the spotlight off herself and sheds it on the thrill of exploring the inner life of her models, her subjects ... her willing friends. The "Incognito Project has sparked some really interesting conversations and I'm enjoying it". 

With 14 paintings finished and at least 11 or 12 (probably more) to come, Terry's energy hasn't wained. Instead the content sustains her drive to continue a project that requires a lot of work, planning and dedication: "I'm having fun, and I don't seem to be getting bored with it." 

Read here about the exciting day when she opened her studio for a photo shoot of the insightful souls who agreed to participate. "I was fortunate to know so many people who really got it". She also had a strong team. Her daughter Carly as key grip, her son interviewing people on tape, her daughter in-law Amy did makeup and her husband Dan was handling paperwork like model releases. Models received T-shirt's confessing "I revealed myself at the Incognito Project". "It was exhausting and fun".

The participants had their own fun as they stuck around to talk to each other about the stories behind their personas. At the time of that shoot, Terry thought the Incognito Project would take a year but it naturally grew into a 2 year effort which she says will definitely be done in 2012 when the project will culminate in a book and as show. 

Although the shoot marked an important starting point, Terry recognizes an even earlier genesis. "I was doing Incognito like pieces long before I started the project ... my superman pieces" showed early signs of what eventually evolved into Incognito. 
Make Way - 42x58 oil on canvas
(c) Terry Strickland

A little investigation into her early work shows that she has worked in series before. Until recent history, Terry didn't give full voice to her painting life. She had an art career but her "Awakening" series marks a time when she most deeply recognized that she really needed to embrace the day, forgo some other efforts and focus her daily work on painting. Not just putting brush to canvas ... but painting realistic, narrative figure paintings! At that time her pre and early teen children were going through their own transitions and she naturally had the urge to capture them in paint. 

For Strickland, these were "Breakthrough Pieces" personally and professionally. "I was going through the same restlessness I saw my kids going through as they were transitioning into early teenagers". Her son Kyle is depicted in On the Wing and Make Way and her daughter Carly is captured below in The Quickening and Pin-up.

Pin-up - 42x58 oil on canvas
(c) Terry Strickland

Prior to these pieces "I had ideas but felt like I needed to get more technical skills." Those ideas motivated her to hone her skills. Then "Eventually, you get to the point where you have confidence in your skills and get down to the quick of what you really want to say and go for it". 

This sheds some light on the advice she would give to new, emerging artists: "You have to want it bad, do the work, don't let a few, (hundreds, truth be told) rejections or failures keep you from making the work you want to make. Actually rejoice in them as they are stepping stones to where you want to be. Don't settle for a style because the real work you want to make isn't in your capabilities yet." Supporting this point Terry explained that she's "taking a workshop with David Kassan, whose work I greatly admire, because I know that my skills can always be improved. I can learn things from him that will help me be better at making my own work." 

This point about focusing on the work you want to make is best illustrated in a story of one of her early paintings. "It's very rewarding, I have cried along with people looking at my work" listing to them talk about it. "I did a painting called "Home" of an African American man holding an empty nest. He was strong but had a tender look on his face. I finished it the week my daughter went to college. The woman who bought it stood with me and told me her story. She had been mugged a few months earlier by an African American man (her purse was taken but she was luckily not physically hurt) and told me that seeing that painting called "Home" healed her. She said the experience healed her!" Terry and the woman stood in the gallery together looking at it through tears of understanding. Ms. Strickland explains that sometimes as an artist, in addition to focusing on what you need to say, you also accept what the viewer brings to the piece.

Getting a public glimpse of these Breakthrough Paintings in person will be rare for those of us who came late to this scene. Strickland has sold many of them but has since decided not to let go of selected early pieces that are special to her.

Nonetheless we are lucky in other ways. We ourselves have become voyeurs to this story as it unfolds. My phone interrogation of Terry has revealed that this scenario like any unfolding mystery is complex with multiple beginnings. And now, I leave it to you to stake out Terry's website and blog ... investigate the scene at her upcoming shows to see where this subject is ultimately headed.

article written by artist Tricia Cherrington Ratliff

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