Recently Terry Strickland was walking near her home in Pelham, AL, when she was surprised by an enormous flock of birds that suddenly flew out of a tree and over her head. Ever since then, the notion of flight has been popping up in Strickland’s arresting figurative paintings. “Flight is such a symbol of being free—the ultimate expression of freedom and things like the imagination taking flight,” she says.
For as long as Strickland can remember, she has been interested in the face and the figure as a way to convey the human condition in her paintings. “There is so much you say with a gesture—so much you can communicate with a glance or through body language,” she says. “It’s a challenge to me to evoke emotions in my figurative pieces. I sometimes wonder if it’s always going to be endlessly fascinating, because I spend hours and hours painting the figure and the face every day, and I am never bored.”
Strickland has been hooked on art since she took a drawing class in high school in her hometown of Cocoa, FL. “I experienced that sense of loss of time because I was so completely absorbed by what I was doing. It was mesmerizing,” she says. After graduating from high school she entered the University of Central Florida, where she earned a fine-arts degree in graphic design. Since then she has worked in a variety of positions as an illustrator, designing everything from Greenpeace T-shirts to military board games. For a brief spell in 2001, she was even hired by an Alabama television station as the courtroom illustrator for the high-profile trial of Thomas Blanton, who was charged and convicted of murder in the 1963 bombing of a local church. But despite these diverse professional commitments, Strickland always found time to nurture her fine-art career in her spare time.
Finally, in 2005, she took a leap of faith, quit her commercial work, and entered the life of a full-time fine artist. At the time, her paintings were winning regional awards and a local gallery was selling them at a steady clip. “It seemed like the right time. I was getting encouragement from a lot of areas. I have not regretted it a bit,” she says.
These days, in addition to exploring themes of flight, Strickland is also interested in examining the transitional periods in life, whether it’s a mid-life juncture or coming of age. Strickland explains that for her these are the times in life when people both look back at decisions made and are awakened to future possibilities. The ideas for works exploring such themes originated when her two children were teenagers and she witnessed them moving from childhood to adulthood, becoming more aware of a greater world beyond their family. “I recognized the restlessness in them as well as myself,” she says. “It started me thinking about how life is just one big transition, from one phase to another. Sometimes these times are turbulent or painful, but they are also necessary.”
Strickland’s inspiration often springs from fairly tales, superheroes, and works of literature, too. Mythical characters become symbols for how humans respond to everyday situations. For example, in Strickland pieces, Superman may become a symbol for dreams people hold close to their hearts, or Little Red Riding Hood could represent a woman who can save herself from perils and predators in life.
Strickland is quick to point out that she doesn’t create paintings just so she can explore art theory—for her it’s about sharing common experiences in life, death, and love. “I like for people to look at my work and say, ‘Yes, I have felt that. Yes, that has happened to me,’” she says. “I want people to feel a connection to my work.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Peterson-Cody Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA; www.terrystricklandart.com.
Two-person show, Peterson-Cody Gallery, November 4-27.
Featured as an “Artist to Watch” in April 2011.