Terry Craig Interview with Lawrence Matthews September 2009

LM: When did you first become interested in art?

TC: I was very interested in art as a child. I remember in the first grade we sometimes got to finger paint. I must have seen some abstract art somewhere, maybe in an encyclopedia, and one day when we were painting, I just started making abstract shapes and filling up the piece of paper with these shapes. I can still remember this vividly. The teacher came over and said, “what is that?”. And I said, “abstract art” and she loved it. She took the piece and it was framed and she hung it up in the cafeteria. I was interested in art in high school but I never really thought about doing it as a profession. But when I got out of school, I went to work in a stained glass studio where I discovered I could draw a bit. The head artist became a mentor for me and he encouraged me to pursue art in a more formal way – to go to school. And so I ended up going to the same school that he went to – The Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida.

LM: At Ringling were you able to pursue the type of work that you wanted to do?

TC: The particular course of study was very formal. There was a small Fine Arts department but we were outnumbered by designers four to one. The first year classes were all about draftsmanship. There was one professor who made us use a pencil with no eraser for the first six weeks of class. All we did was set up still lifes and draw them. We focused on composition, design, the figure. The first two years were like that, very formal. The third year you could specialize in either printmaking , sculpture or painting and I chose painting. I liked sculpture a lot but I didn’t feel it was my strong suit.

LM: It’s interesting that your work now has aspects of both sculpture and painting.

TC: I’ve always enjoyed heavily textural work but I like the picture plane. I like working within a square or a rectangle – its what I like best.

LM: The current work you are doing incorporates some very unusual materials. How did you find those materials?

TC: Like so many other artists, I was inspired by another artist. Antoni Tapies is one of my favorite artists, I discovered his work when I was in art school. I was always attracted to the heavily textured paintings he did. I had no idea how he was getting the effects he was getting. So I read as much about him as I could trying to understand some of the processes he used. There wasn’t much actual information about his methods though so I just began to experiment. It took a long time, maybe a couple of years, to develop the formulas and to get the materials to do what I wanted them to do.

LM: There seems to be an underlying reference to geometry in your work.

TC: I’ve always been attracted to the relationship between geometrical shapes and abstract shapes, the interplay between the two. There is a tension that gets set up when you use both of those elements in the same painting. I use both of those elements in a lot of different ways. Now, I use geometric shapes as a basis and because of the nature of the materials I work with I get all these “happy accidents”. Bits and pieces of the work fall off, and you can scape into it and you get all sort of these wonderful organic qualities. And that’s something that’s been in the work me from the very beginning.

LM: So your works have an interplay between their very organic surfaces and the geometric boundaries that also appear in the work?

TC: Yes, there’s something very psychologically appealing about that interplay to me. When I was in Florida, I would see the concrete squares that make up a sidewalk. But the rain and the sun would erode them and crack them into these just incredibly beautiful shapes. I would actually take paper and lay it down on the top of them an make rubbings and would get these gorgeous designs.
I don’t exactly what the appeal or the meaning of it is but there is something about those man made shapes that get run through the blender of nature and they get much more beautiful. In my work that’s a process I use quite a bit. I start with these hard edged shapes and then sort of deteriorate them.

LM: How do you get an idea for a painting?

TC: (Laughs) I don’t. Well, occasionally I have an idea – I’ll see something in nature or on a wall and I think that’s a nice shape or color or whatever. But usually when I have that idea it will change dramatically by the time I get to the end of the piece.

LM: So the process is very important to the final outcome of the work?

TC: I frequently just start with no ideas at all. I just start throwing some color around and see what happens. And those are some of the nicest pieces I’ve done. They just come from wherever they come from. I’d love to be able to tap into that all the time.

LM: Have you ever gotten in that place when you are working when you feel like you are not really painting, but instead something is painting through you? Like you are just holding the brush and the painting is painting itself?

TC: Absolutely. I love that feeling. I wish I got it every time. You know, I find I get that feeling a lot when I have an idea and I’m working on it and it will be failing miserably, it will not be going well at all. And then finally I have to get to the point where I just abandon that idea and say to hell with it and that’s when that “flow” experience begins happening. As soon as I give up the preconceived idea I had in my head then I can just allow the experience to take over and it guides me. When this occurs, after I’m finished, I look at the work and wonder, “how did I do that?”.  And I can never recreate it, it is never going to happen again.

LM: Is there a spiritual component to your work?

TC: The thing we were just talking about is a very spiritual experience to me. I feel that something is coming through me from a higher place and that is a wonderful feeling.

LM: Why do you think art is important? Why do you think it has the power it has had throughout human history?

TC: That’s a really hard question. I find that when I surround myself with beautiful things it makes me feel better, it makes me feel centered and happy. To have that in my life is very important. Its like when you are taking a hike in the mountains and you see all these beautiful things and it just makes you feel good. I don’t see visual art really changing the world though.

LM: How about revolutionary artists like Picasso who gave us alternative ways of imagining or looking at the world?

TC: I think that’s true. But, I think there are other disciplines, like science, that have changed the world in much more profound ways. I think literature also has the capacity to really change people. I think of the books I read as a child – they really changed my life. They changed my perspective, they opened up my eyes to whole new avenues of thought. Yet visual art is what I am attracted to. Visual art goes to some area of the mind that I don’t think words can reach. It’s a very primal place. I like delving into that part of myself because I think that is where a lot of the imagery comes from when it is being created. People who respond to art are responding to the artist tapping into that source.

LM: Maybe one of the things that is so profound about art is the mystery, that it is ultimately beyond our attempts to explain it.

TC: Definitely. You can’t really say what it is exactly but it hits you on a very deep level. That’s what makes it important.