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Talking with Milwaukee’s Artist of the Year

Off the Cuff with Evelyn Patricia Terry

Apr. 30, 2014
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Evelyn Patricia Terry was recently named Milwaukee Arts Board Artist of the Year, sharing that honor with Barbara Leigh. For nearly half a century, she has made her mark with attention-grabbing subjects—race, identity, religion and relationships—in “purples, yellows, blue greens, oranges and reds, and lots of cerise” (French: “cherry”). Her pastels, watercolors and prints, mixed media, found objects and installations appear in more than 400 collections around the world. She also writes, teaches, lectures, curates and collects. She sat down with Off the Cuff to discuss revolutionary black art collectives and greens—shades, flavors and benefits. 


You were born in Milwaukee? 

And lived most of my life in this house (in Lindsay Heights’ Walnut Way). After getting married I moved back in and assumed payments because my mother and sisters no longer wanted to. I was thrilled. I just wanted to make art, and this house was fine for that. 


You studied art at UW-Milwaukee and the Art Institute of Chicago? 

I was miserable until I learned art was a degree and viable career option—thanks to Ms. Jean Stange [of the Art Institute of Chicago]. Michael Miller taught me that, although I concentrated on printmaking, I was first an artist and thus nothing was off limits.


How did you break into the pro world? 

Late 1960s—I felt older than most, maybe a bit behind. My teachers often organized exhibitions, but never invited me. My work might have been too “cultural.” Many were men and unable to broach the subject. Anyway, my friends and I started The Gallery Toward the Black Aesthetic. I also entered festivals. I don’t remember my first sale. But it was an important point. I wanted to be like Picasso and sell art for a living—instead of relegating it to a secondary hobby. It is still what I do today. 


Artists often struggle on the money side. 

You have to want to be an artist. Keep good records and contracts. Signatures and dates from all parties. Court happens. If possible, take business courses. One must maintain control of one’s artwork, and avoid allowing the IRS to gain control of one’s artwork.


Life’s great artistic accomplishment? 

No particular work or works. More—achieving the confidence and freedom to create, without worrying about other’s opinions. 


Lesson to share? 

Focus on health. Eat raw greens and colored vegetables. Creating is almost impossible when one is clogged with cooked and processed foods. Clean cells make your body feel great and facilitate a surprisingly wonderful, holistic art experience. You can take this to the bank.


What is next for you? 

This summer I am one of 12 finalists for Creational Trails (through ArtPlace America). My proposal (“Luv Downtown StreetSeats”) is for West Wisconsin Avenue—renovation and growth, fueled by street collaborations. I welcome the prospect. 


Where can people find you? 

The Terry McCormick Contemporary Fine and Folk Art Gallery is at my home. Make an appointment and stop by. Or visit my website: evelynpatriciaterry.com.


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