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Artist 2 Artist: Avigail Manneberg Talks With Terrence Payne About His Work

Terrence Payne

Avigail: Hey Terrence, thanks for sitting down with me today. To kick things off, could you tell us a bit about your artist statement and how you approach it?

Terrence: Like 80% of my artist statement is stuff I've pulled from articles people have written about my work just 'cause I fucking hate writing artist statements and I just smash all of these different ideas together and then I have an artist statement. It's kind of true, but it's basically, you know, I don't like writing about my work.

Avigail: I totally get that! Writing about your own work can be quite a challenge. So, can you take us back to where your journey as an artist began and how it evolved into what you create now?

Terrence: If I go back to once I got out of school, everything after that I kind of consider the starting point of where I began to build what I do now. I liked the Renaissance art I had studied in school quite a bit, especially the portraiture. When I got done with school, I wanted to travel across Europe, and in that whole backpacking thing, I got to see a lot of it in person. You know, the thing that struck me the most about it was just not so much the figurative elements of the work but all the things that the rich people put in their portraits, like the stuff they wanted to brag about. And I was like, who fucking cares if these rich assholes look like now because they are dust? It doesn't matter anymore. But the things that they decided to present as their own identity, like their land holdings or their guild or their wealth, and things like that, I was like, well, this is something that's still relatable to me. Because it's a thing that I can see with examples, you know, like the famous one with the guy with the big chunk out of his nose.

A portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino (l. 1422-82 CE) by the Italian Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca (d. 1492 CE). c. 1470 CE. (Uffizi, Florence)

And the thing is they're very distinctive characters, but I also liked the landholdings, the fact that amassing that kind of wealth was what was most important to that person that paid for the painting or whatever. And then I could actually go out and see that countryside in Florence or whatever, yeah, okay, that's pretty cool. So, anyway, I started thinking about that, and when I moved to Minneapolis I was working in bars, and meeting a lot of people (who were getting drunk and oversharing), and everybody's telling stories. This made me think about how, you know, the first couple stories a person tells you when you meet them are kind of that same sort of idea of how a person presents their identity on first impression. And I was like, well, these are the experiences from their life that they think are distinctive about them that they hope you'll remember them by. So I just started sort of collecting the stories that people were telling me, and then I started illustrating them. Instead of using figures, I was using interior spaces and furnishing the interiors with objects that I could associate  symbolically with their story. So basically, I was like, and I was using a more illustrative style, because I thought that was a good way to communicate with people. Because then, you know, my background in school was in graphic design. But unfortunately, I'm old enough that I didn't learn anything about computers. So as soon as I graduated, like everything I knew was irrelevant because it was just like, "Good for you, you can fucking render typography by hand." So at that point art seemed like a more practical route for a career than design and I enjoyed quite a lot so that's how I started out.

Avigail: So, you were able to combine your interest in Renaissance art with the stories you collected from people. How did you transition from illustrating individual stories to creating a broader theme or body of work?

Terrence: Yeah, I mean, at that point, I was thinking of those as portraits of these people telling me stories,  even though you wouldn't recognize them on the street. It was just their story, so it was a portion of their identity more or less. So I was just doing that for a couple years, and then people started to figure out what I was doing after I had a few shows and started to get a little attention. Some people were excited that I used their stories, other people, not so much. I started to realize that I had done enough work by that point to start repeating imagery that had sort of a more generic symbolism that I could apply to different portraits that I was doing, which began to tie the portraits together. So then I was like, well, I suppose I could just think about combining stories and think about these portraits more as archetypes rather than individuals. And then that'll save me the aggravation of dealing with someone yelling at me for talking about things they told me in confidence, you know? So that's really what I consider, at that point, where I started to move more into what I'm doing now. And that sort of evolved into rather than examining separate archetypes, I started to think about how these different sorts of individuals could make a community. And then I started thinking about how those communities could be divisive, divisive and communal both at the same time, you know? So it's not just any community I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about, you know, community is a good and bad thing at the same time, it can be, you know? So I like to work with those kinds of tensions and themes.

"Brad's Been Walking With Jesus" oil pastel on paper, 52 x 48". 1997

Avigail: It's interesting how you've moved from individual stories to exploring these larger themes and tensions within communities. Can you tell us about some specific projects or themes that you've explored in your work?

Terrence: There was one project I did back in 2013, it was called, “The Myth Of Utopia”, which  examined what people are willing to give up in the interest of being spiritually satisfied or whatever. I was looking at cults, religions and even certain political systems and I was thinking about how I could illustrate these in a way that showed both the sacrifices and rewards of the individual and how those combined experiences made up their community. It was a continuation of what I'd been doing all along anyway, but it was more explicit in that I was trying to illustrate, in my opinion, what these people thought was the most important thing that they could tell me about themselves.  I think what came out of those explorations was a pretty good range of experiences that were represented which left plenty of room for my viewers to insert themselves into the conversation and to think about how they have or might have behaved in similar circumstances.

"You Think You Are Dancing, But Really You Are Just Dying Slowly" oil pastel on paper, 66 x 66", 2012

Avigail: That project sounds like an exploration of personal sacrifice and community dynamics. Have you ventured into any other themes or projects that you'd like to share with us?

Terrence: Yeah, I mean, I haven't gotten too involved in anything that's directly political, you know, I'm always curious to know why people do what they do. Sometimes there's a little bit more of a commentary or satire in my work.  I'm not saying I'm going for that or necessarily thinking about things that way, but it might end up that way. So I feel like what I'm doing is more intense, and I think of it as being more reflective. It's really got nothing to do with the event of the day, but more about human experience.

Avigail: That's a unique and introspective approach to art. I'd love to hear about your most recent work and how it's evolved.

Studio view of work leading up to "Cozy" exhibition at Rosalux

Terrence: Well, yeah, the last show I had was called "Cozy," and I started working on it in 2019. At that time I was thinking about personal protection and security and comfort and safety, in relation to  the COVID lockdown. A lot of people were locked in their houses and apartments with their families, roommates, or were alone for a long time.   It seemed to be a good opportunity to examine the quiet desperation of people, you know. It's like, they really want to be with each other, but it's sort of like the relationship starts to strain when they're stuck with each other, 24/7.  So the "Cozy" thing began with  where your comfort and security starts to feel like a trap, which is a large part of the exploration of the show.  It also developed into considerations of personal safety and what were acceptable risks as people began to leave the pandemic behind and go back out into the world. I'm exploring knit objects and costumes in my drawings, of course, and I'm also using really detailed and constructed pieces that I'm quilting. That's my newest stuff which has been using the patchwork quilt as the base for those ideas and really working in the textures and connotations of handmade textiles to influence the viewers experience with that work. 

"It’s A Comfort To Know I’m Not The Only One Talking With Birds" oil pastel on paper, 42 x 52", 2022

Avigail: It's interesting how you've taken these experiences from the COVID-19 lockdown and channeled them into your art. I noticed a strong presence of quilting in your recent work. Can you share more about how you came to use quilting and the symbolism behind it?

Terrence: So quilting is a lot like doing collage for me. I figured out the technical aspects of construction after doing a couple of quilts which allowed me to see how I could apply the same kind of point of view that I had been using in my main studio practice, but also how the functionality of quilts as an object freed me up from the pressures of having to imprint any sort of larger meaning to the finished piece. Basically I realized that I could just have fun and explore some more pictorial ideas within the limitations of the medium without worrying if anyone would get it because even if they didn’t pick up on the themes of what I was doing they could still use the quilt to stay warm on a cold day. 

Terrence quilts!

Avigail: It's clear that quilting has added a new dimension to your work, and it's fascinating how you've embraced this technique to create art. You mentioned the precision and attention to detail in quilting. Does this meticulous approach relate to the way you handle the details in your drawings?

Terrence: Well, yeah, I think what I learned was I'm an artist and a big part of my job is to make something look a certain way. With quilting you're really having to concentrate on the details to make the entire piece look the way that you want it to look. So in a way, the quilting techniques are like a whole new thing. I use a lot of layering and playing around with composition in the way I create my sketches for my large drawings which is similar to the way that I create designs with my quilts.  The difference is that with the quilts I think about color and shape first and get into the details later which is the opposite of how I approach a drawing.  I think that my quilting has led me to think more about the whole rather than just a beginning part from the outset in my drawings for sure.  

"Twister Skulls" quilted cotton fabric, 60 x 60", 2021

Avigail: It's fascinating how your experience with quilting has influenced your approach to art in such a detailed and intricate way. We've covered a lot of ground, and I appreciate you sharing your journey and insights with us. Before we wrap up, is there anything you'd like to add or any upcoming projects or exhibitions you'd like to tell us about?

"It’s Easy To Be Invisible When You Live Like A Ghost " cut paper, color pencil and resin on board, 67 x 76", 2023

Terrence: Nothing in particular comes to mind.  I have a couple of ideas for new themes to work with that I am exploring right now. It's hard to wrangle my excitement for new ideas and finish out current projects and transition smoothly from one thing to the next, but I’m sure it will be fun anyway.

Avigail: Thank you for giving us insight into your work and creative process, Terrence. It's been a pleasure discussing your journey and the evolution of your art with you.

Terrence: Thanks, Avigail. It was great to talk with you about my work!



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