Terrance Osborne: It’s not just a bowl of fruit, it’s the preserves of the fruit that I go for.
An interview with artist Terrance Osborne.
Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
No, I didn’t. Initially, I was a gymnast and I thought that’s what I would be. But, I had this undercurrent of art. I drew all the time, my mom did it as a hobby so I picked it up from her and kept going with it.
How did you turn art into a career?
That’s probably a number of pivotal moments, but in middle school, I joined an organization called Talented Arts Visual, and this was the first time I met a practicing professional artist. There was a man who would come from somewhere on the Earth, pull me out of my class, work with me for an hour, we’d do art, and then he’d put me back in class. Before that, I had never met an artist who only made a career out of their art. This guy, he was selling his artwork and that left a big impression on me. That was the first time I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do.’
Do you struggle with letting go of your artwork when you sell it?
I always knew I wanted to sell my artwork, I’ve never really been attached to it. I started selling my artwork really early. When I was in high school I would paint on pants for my classmates and sell those as my first hustle. Selling it hasn’t been an issue for me, pricing has always been an issue, even now. I sold my first piece for $55, and my most expensive piece is $75,000. Even at this stage, where I’m selling work at that height, I still get nervous about what I’m going to price it. But here’s how you overcome that:
When I first started selling my artwork, there was a point where I got up to about $500 for an original, and not everybody was willing to pay that for an original. But, there was this one piece I absolutely loved, and my wife asked me what I was going to sell it for. I said ‘I think I want to sell it for a little more, I really like it, but I don’t think anyone is going to buy it,’ and she said, ‘well if you could buy it, what would you pay for it?’ and I said ‘$800 but no one will buy it for that much.’ My wife takes care of all the labels so she had labeled every piece $500, but she labeled my favorite one as $800 without me knowing. So this guy walks up and says ‘hey, come that one is $800 and the rest of the originals are $500?’ and I said the first thing that came to my mind which was, ‘because I like that one more.’ He asked me to sell it to him for $500 and I said no. The next day, a lady came up and said, ‘oh that one’s $800? I’ll take it.’ Whatever you want to price your work at, people will buy it at that price. You have to determine your value.
Who inspires you? Do you have a muse?
My family, I tend to put them in my work a lot. I paint women a lot, I often use my wife’s eyes and my daughter’s face to create characters. I’m definitely inspired by my family, but also the culture of New Orleans.
You’re obviously very inspired by New Orleans, how would your work look if you lived in a different city?
It would look like that city. I think it just makes sense to me to paint what I know and I grew up here so… I’m not just mimicking the culture, I’m a culture producer. I express the culture. That’s the greatest job you could have, really. There’s a sort of fire about what I paint, it’s not just a bowl of fruit, it’s the preserves of the fruit that I go for. Even if I’m in a boring place, I will find the edge of that place and paint that.
If you had to give up one color to paint with, what would it be and why?
I would say black because when I was at Xavier University, they showed us how to paint without using black. You had to mix the colors to make black, so that would be my cheat. That’s a hard one though because if you take away any of the colors, everything is different.
Well, what if you had to paint with one color for the rest of your life?
Orange. Orange has remained a color that I’ve used consistently and I think it goes back to that whole fire thing. When I was a kid, I used to collect these little Matchbox cars. All of my friends collected them and they knew all the names, the make, model, all that, and I didn’t know any of that stuff. I just knew that I liked this rusty orange car. I loved this car. I didn’t understand till later that the reason I loved it was because I loved the color of it. That orange has remained my consistent color.
How do you feel about people copying/ borrowing from your work?
I borrow from other artists all the time. You can’t help it. You know, you’re going to be influenced but that’s what you want. You’re not going to be them, no matter how much you try. You’ll always be yourself, you’ll just be a combination of artists that you like and nature. It’s always okay to borrow from artists. The problem comes when you stay there and never grow. Your job is to learn and learn well. You have to learn the rules so you can break them.
How did you find your style?
When I was in college, I was struggling. I wanted to get my work out there so my wife said, ‘you know, you need a style.’ So I tried a few things, but I couldn’t stick to it. I couldn't stick to it because I wasn't happy staying in one place. If you look at my subject matter, it’s all over the place, but there’s one thing that’s consistent and that’s my color. As a matter of fact, people started saying after a while, ‘I can point your stuff out anywhere.’ I didn’t choose that, I just did what I liked and eventually people noticed.
Do you have an all-time favorite piece you have created?
Well, I mean that’s a hard one. There is one that has remained my favorite for a long time. It’s called ‘From Nothing.’
The reason why it hits home for me is because I use all the colors in my palette on this tree, but also because I painted it after Katrina. We moved to Georgia for two years, that’s where we evacuated. In New Orleans, you don’t see the seasons change, you just see leaves on the tree, or leaves off the tree. And in Georgia, I hated being there at first because we were displaced, but there were so many trees and they changed all these colors. I had never lived anywhere else that I got to see the seasons change through the trees, so I painted it to illustrate all of the seasons in one tree. I loved it by the time we left and it was all because of the trees.
How do you know when a piece is done?
That’s always a toughie. I know when a piece is done when I’m tired of it.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Definitely my family.
What advice can you offer to aspiring artists?
Obviously, the thing about doing what you love. That sounds like a cliche, you’ve heard that before. But the reason why is the most important thing. Each artist has a language, and each painting is like a paragraph in your language. The more paragraphs you have, the more someone understands what you’re trying to evoke. You have to create your portfolio, otherwise, you’re silencing yourself. Every artist has something to contribute. Every artist has their own language. So doing your art often, and as much as you can to express your language is the most important thing.