We recently took a drive to the Valley Arts District in Orange, NJ, a designated arts neighborhood in transition, to chat with fine arts photographer and multi-disciplinary artist, Terry Boddie, at his studio and gallery space, Oualie Art. The gallery currently featured a sampling of his work throughout the years, giving us the sense of his development and willingness to take risk. Amongst the works on display were abstract photographs taken by him, on paper that he made, and developed using processes that he created. In addition, art and sculptural works-in-progress and completed books were scattered around the space giving us even further glimpses into his creativity and why his work has been featured all over the world including Paris, France, The Brooklyn Museum and the Philadelphia Musem to name a few.
Easy going, humble, intellectual and conscious are few of the choice words we would use to describe this talented individual. Concerned with themes of history, migration, memory and time, Terry’s works not only have the ability to speak very strongly to those who are familiar with Caribbean history, but also easily convey those same things to those that are not. At the age of 15, Terry and his family migrated from the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis to live in the US. This migration, and eventual return 16 years later, is very much evident in the central breadth of his work. As with most Caribbean teenaged boys, Terry at 15 had already developed a passion for the sports of cricket and kiting. So naturally he sought them out as a way to stay grounded in his roots once he settled in the US. It is most interesting to see these passions appear throughout his work either literally, as in the placement of a bat or art books in the shape of kites in older works, or symbolically, as represented by spiraling movements in his abstract fine art photography in the more current pieces.
Please read further to learn more about the intriguing thinker Terry Boddie, garner more from our conversation, and to see snippets of his portfolio of works. To see the full breadth of his art, visit his beautiful portfolio online, HERE.
Pick one: rock climbing, bungee jumping, hand gliding, base jumping or kite surfing.
Kite surfing. I’ve always loved the kite object as a child. The idea of being attached to one is very compelling.
When did you choose art as a career and why?
To a certain extent I think art choose me, if that makes sense. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I realize now looking back that I’ve always been creative. What I do now is just an extension of that. I made my own toys as a child, from go-carts to kites to spinning tops. My formal training as an artist has given me more options and access to different materials, that’s all.
Was there ever an alternative career choice? If yes, what was it?
My alternative career choice would have been architecture. I’ve always loved structures and the process in which they are imaginatively conceived, designed then actualized as a tangible object. Interestingly enough I now make installation art. Maybe it’s a way for me to fulfill this impulse to make structures.
What was the first artwork that you sold? How did that sale make you feel?
The first artwork I sold was a black and white photograph when I was an undergraduate in college. I was initially puzzled that someone wanted to buy it. It wasn’t something I considered one of my strongest photographs visually. In fact I wasn’t that fond of it. What I soon realized was that we each bring our own experiences to a creative work of art and therefore it impacts each of us differently. This was a very important revelation.
How has your art evolved since then?
My work has evolved from analog black and white photography into analog color and digital prints. I also explore alternative photographic methods from the early part of photography’s beginning in the 19th century. This requires me to prepare my own photographic surfaces using gelatin silver emulsion, cyanotype, and platinum palladium and gum bichromate techniques. The resulting images often blurs the lines between what looks like a drawing, a photograph or a painting
Tell us about your artist space?
My working space is my sanctuary. It’s where my ideas flow and gets transformed into material forms and art objects. Artworks are on every wall and on the floor as well in various stages of completion. I need to see the work visually when I’m in the studio. I often sit with the pieces over the course of hours, days, and weeks as decisions regarding how to resolve a formal, technical or aesthetic issue are reached.
You have the total freedom to determine your own artistic direction. How do you arrive at the point where you commit to a theme or idea?
Once the spark of inspiration is lit I keep fully engaged with the creative idea. At this point it’s easy to stay on the path. Sometimes I put it aside for a moment, maybe a week or a month but I always come back to it until it’s completed. The time spent away from the piece often created a space for ideas to expand and develop that often influence other works in progress and aid in their completion
At what time of the day/month/year do you work best?
I work best in the fall and winter. There is a quietness to these two seasons that allows my mind to focus without the distractions that summer and spring sometimes offers. If I have a deadline that falls during spring and summer I have no difficulty focusing to get the task completed.
Our conversation that day really highlighted Terry's strong interest in the physical and metaphysical, resurrection, and the obvious cyclicality consistent in life. One of the many interesting stories he told us happened on his first return to Nevis. During this trip, he was drawn to a man who was in the process of making coal that is used in the preparation of traditional foods specifically served at a world renowned 5-star hotel on the island. With incredible patience, the coal man would sit and watch over the wood as it slowly turned to coal, carefully watching the smoke as it wafted out of the bonfire mound. After photographing him, (which, personally, was one of our favorites of displayed pieces) it was later revealed that the coal man was taught this craft by none other than Terry’s grandfather! This story was one of many that supported his philosophical outlook of connectivity and continuity through time and space. His more recent work reflects a movement towards the abstract and astrological, which also serves to support his cerebral evolution.
Who is your favorite visual artist?
I don’t have one favorite artist. I admire the creative process of a number of different artists for different reasons. They range from photographers to painters and sculptors. Roy DeCarava, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Norman Lewis, Dox Thrash, Martin Puryear, Frank Bowling among others.
What or who inspires you and why?
My dreams of home inspire me to keep on my creative path. It’s like a deep reservoir of memory that I continually draw from. Home for me is both actual and metaphysical, physical space and memory.
Has your cultural background influenced your art?
My cultural background is the foundation of my creative practice. Many of my ideas are rooted in my immediate Caribbean culture but also my ancestral African culture. There are instances where because of African retentions on this side of the Atlantic, both of these traditions come together in interesting ways to create new creative possibilities formally and conceptually.
Pick one: cons, vans, pro-keds or jordans
Pro-keds. They were one of the first pair of sneakers I bought with my own money I earned working my first summer job.
Do you ever think about where a piece will end up and does that influence the outcome of the art?
I never think about where a piece will end up while I am making it. I prefer to let the end results dictate the destination of the work of art. Each piece has a destiny/destination in a sense.
What is the most unconventional material you've used in your work?
Gelatin, which is also one of the ingredients in Jell-O. I use it to make my own photographic paper.
Pick one: bike, car, bus, train
Train. This mode of transportation allows me to relax totally.
What country/state/city/neighborhood do you live in? How did you end up there?
I live in the Valley Arts District in Orange, NJ. I moved there from NYC a number of years ago to teach college art. It’s an officially designated arts neighborhood that’s slowly being populated by artists.
Any upcoming shows/exhibits to mention?
Currently participating in an interactive installation at Index Art Center, Newark NJ.
If you have 24 hours left to live, what would you do with it?
If I had 24 hours to live I would spend as much of it as possible doing what I love to do which is making art. I would also spend a significant amount of that time letting everyone who has touched my life in some way know what it had on my evolution as a human being.
Not just theoretical and philosophical but enterprising as well: Terry has his own studio and art gallery, Oualie Art, where he hosts events monthly while displaying his and other works. You can find out more about Terry Boddie and his gallery on his website, HERE.