by Julia Stewart
Making art with words, and words into art
Terrence Jon recently returned from his second artist residency gig in the impossibly beautiful Caribbean island of Anguilla. The Canadian born multidisciplinary artist is heavily influenced by his world travels and recently by his life in Merida, Mexico where he has had his primary residence over the past 7.5 years and where he established his own art gallery called La Clinica.
In line with his nomadic nature, his choice of medium moves freely among drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and installations. Terrence Jon likes to blur the boundaries between art and our everyday environment. His interpretation of the human condition is expressed through color- rich, multi-layered, often glossy forms, illuminating contemporary culture in an entirely original fashion. His works are part of international art collections in Canada, United States, Spain, France, Portugal, Holland, Germany and Mexico.
And Terrence likes to take art even further – often presenting his work in a conceptual, multi-media form that weaves in live performances of poetry, song and video.
Below we have a chat with the free-spirited artist.
Q: How and when did you get started in painting and visual art?
A: I think true artists are born as artists. I was born ‘that way’. I was always extremely visually creative; at the age of five, I illustrated my own book Alfie the Elephant – jajaja – 50 pages in full color in kindergarten! There are many paths one can follow to educate and develop their artistic practice. Although, I do have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario, my path has not been very typical or conventional. And perhaps more than any particular art school or mentor, my greatest learning has sprung from travelling and experiencing cultures first hand on the street – in your face – so to speak.
Mexico, in particular, has had a massive imprint on me and I work well in Latin environs and with the old energy that lingers in these parts. While at university in the late 80s/early 90s, I opened an ’afterhours club‘ with my roommates who were DJ’s, and so I had this vast space – it was an old bank building with a vault! – that I could use as my art studio. I would spend hours roaming around downtown finding materials to paint on, then I would exhibit the finished product each weekend inside the club. I guess in some ways it was my first art gallery/installation. I would encourage patrons of the club to draw and write their poetry on the walls inside the vault. I found gigantic pieces of Styrofoam and plastic and would make large scale paintings and a new sign for the club each weekend – which would also get stolen each weekend! – but I considered that a compliment somehow (my first collectors!). That probably was when I realized that art would be my life.
Q: In the vein of Picasso’s blue period, do you go through particular artistic ‘periods’ in your life, and what are/were they?
A: Absolutely. I have already moved through many periods, but in one sense they never quite end. I can always dip back into one and evolve it more. Early in my career, I started out making a lot of line drawings in India Ink with fabric dyes and pastels and oil paintings on canvas. Then moved into a Copper Period, during which I made mixed media sculptural paintings and relief panels, working the metal from both sides with blow torches, natural pigments and embossing the surfaces with found objects. This is when words first began to appear in my paintings, as I pounded the metal letters (found antique metal letters from an old printing press) with a hammer.
Next, came a Resin Wood Period: I started to paint on wood by layering coatings of industrial epoxy resins, resulting in my first big art project, called SecondNature:2N:SegundaNatura. This started when I was staying at a hacienda near Merida in the year 2000 on my first trip to the Yucatan; my studio was actually in old henequén tanks. This project became a defining moment in my career, because one of my large scale paintings was selected to be part of the Paris Salon in 2003, which then resulted in my first solo show in Paris, then group shows in Berlin, and later solo shows in Toronto, Montreal, and San Miguel de Allende and my first museum show at Museo de Arte in Queretaro, Mexico in 2005.
The last eight years I have been in my cULTUREgLU Period: in which I am further developing my multi-disciplinary art practice creating a mix of paintings, installations, sculptures, videos and performances in Mexico, Spain, Canada, Holland, the United States and Anguilla.
Q: You created dozens of works while in Anguilla; was this the most prolific period of your life yet? How many works of art did you create and where are they now?
A: My time spent as artist-in-residence in Anguilla certainly was
a very prolific. Yet, I am always streaming with new ideas for installations, paintings, sculptures…always experimenting with new mediums…making new work. What was good for me in Anguilla is that it provided me with a very remote, different, rather isolated place to focus on my work without the typical distractions of city life. It also challenged me to use new materials and processes, as the 50+ works I created there where made entirely out of objects and materials I found on the island. The art works are all still in Anguilla as the gallery plans to exhibit the work there, and hopefully the entire collection will be presented at an international museum in the future.
Q: Your work in Anguilla is part of your cULTUREgLU concept. Can you expound on this concept?
A: cULTUREgLU is the essential element I am always searching for when I arrive in a new place. Investigating local customs and beliefs, observing through an intense process to arrive at a ‘culture-specific’ discovery…those unique bits within a community or country that I play with and reflect upon, projecting them back as a vital layer within the overall context of my work. The process of searching for something reveals a wide perspective on the local culture, both the history and the ‘now’. I try to select objects and materials with the story of the country or the city or the people locked-in—old or new, used or natural, discarded or lost debris. I look for key materials or often languagisms – phrases that people say, words that resonate, that speak to me about the culture, and then I use those as the building blocks in my paintings, sculptures, installations and performances.
Q: You mention using lots of ‘found’ items to make your art. In Anguilla you created with found driftwood, crayfish claws, rocks, coconuts, glass bottles, marine resins and old boat rope; can you describe how you integrated these items into your work? Do you plan to continue along these lines?
A: As a multi-disciplinary artist my main goal is to express an idea or concept that I am passionate about in the deepest most complete way. In that spirit, I see my studio as an open laboratory and if I can tackle a new medium or material, I will utilize it to express myself within many layers. I tend to experiment and invent techniques and explore with unusual and unconventional materials, often appropriating them, tweaking and transforming them into new objects of art. Lately, I have been exploring making Yucatan landscape paintings out of the most-loved drinks of locals – Horchata, Jamaica, Tamarindo, Tequila – to provide the sabor (flavour) of life here.
Q: While many art savvy people in Merida are aware that you are a pioneer in the downtown art scene, some do not know about your past influence at all. Tell us more about that?
A: Yes, I guess I can be in turns extremely extroverted (that’s my alter ego tACHOtALK) and also a complete shut-in. During 2006 – 2008, my art gallery La Clinica was an amazing, avant-garde space, with a focus on combining international and Mexican contemporary art projects. At that time there was not really anything like that happening in Merida’s centro historico. So I think we attracted a lot of interest and attention from younger artists and the cultural community in Merida looking for something hip and current. We presented some provocative high-level exhibitions, installations and performances over those years. With very talented collaborators: painters, sculptures, musicians, dancers, VJs and curators. It was a creative hub of sorts. The local press and even the Jumex Foundation in Mexico City took note [editor’s note: Jumex has the largest private contemporary art collection in Latin America]. It was a special moment in time I think for Merida, perhaps the first wave in what now has become the Santa Ana arts district in the historic center. As I have become more mobile over the past few years, and travel frequently for my own art exhibitions and residencies in other countries, La Clinica now serves more as my art studio space when I am in Merida, with doors open on the first Sunday of each month as a participant in the Merida Circuito Galerias’. Of course, works can also be viewed by appointment.
Q: How has living in Merida influenced your art and your life in general?
A: The ancient Maya energy here, the people – their simpatico nature, their smiles, the crumbling temples, along with the
Q: You once built a Maya pyramid out of beer cans. Where was that piece exhibited and how was it received? Did you personally drink all the beer used in the exhibit?
A: It was titled :EQUINOCCIO. I created a multi-media intervention utilizing 1,200 beer bottles and cans to reconstruct a Maya temple – specifically Dzibilchaltun’s temple of seven dolls. The goal was to recreate the equinox experience in the historic center of the city, playing with dates, timing, and location. I placed the intervention at the exact mid-point between the spring and fall equinox and brought a ‘make believe’, illusionary impossible summer equinox, to life.
The installation included 1,200 beer bottles and cans, found rocks, photography, a banner with original text, singing and video projection. It was curated by the Yucatan Institute of Culture and presented at the Centro de Artes Visuales (CAV) in Merida.
Funny story, I received a sponsorship from Cervecería Modelo and was able to select the beer brands I wanted – I used Modelo Especial cans and Coronita bottles. All the bottles were full and after the exhibition the Instituto Cultural Yucatan delivered the temple back my studio where I reconstructed it and invited artist friends to drink the templo poco a poco. It constantly changed forms (becoming a real ruin); then there was a knock at the door like a month later and a Modelo Corona Giant Truck appeared in front of my studio. They were there to reclaim the beers! Oops! So I think they got back all the cases and 300 or so full beers and all the emptiesJ. Fortunately, as beer is a big part of Yucatecan culture, they were somewhat understanding.
Q: What do you believe is your mission in life?
Q: You have said that you are infusing ‘livingwords’ and ‘languagisms’ in your art, both words of which are made up. What is another of your favorite words you have fabricated in the process of making art, and can you use it in a sentence?
A: “ :homoMEXual:” No sentence required.
Q: You have often used poetry and song to accompany your artwork. Why do you add these elements?
A: Although painting is deep in my basic core, my poetry and my Wordz are not just accompaniment or add-ons, they are fundamental elements of my expression. I write them, draw them, paint them, speak them and often sing and vocalize them as part of a very essential layer of my overall project.
Q: You are known to have a fetish for chocolate. Will you ever really do a chocolate art installation and how would it work?
A: wow! U have outted me, mi weaknezz, I would say the great dream of the ‘ChocoLICK’ performance will one day be realized —- it will be a shockingly sweet + delicious art happening!
Q: What would you consider the pinnacle of success for yourself?
A: To have a deep sense of peace that I have understood my time.
Q: What is the most interesting new thing that you have learned lately?
A: A salsa dance move called el pato. Watch this…
You can learn more about Terrence and his work at: