tucson terry

i continued exploring contemporary watercolor artists, and through a gallery reference became acquainted with the works of terry lukens, a watermedia artist in her late fifties who was living and working north of tucson, arizona.

she painted the desert with an unexpected spiritual light, a pictorial naturalism with a supernatural color atmosphere. i really liked these works, as i had spent many months in the desert around the chiracahua mountains and grew to love those hot, limitless, thundershook vistas of the summer southwest. to me, terry captured the depth of the desert perfectly.

i wrote to her requesting more information about current work. she sent several plastic pocket sheets of slides, and i chose three large format paintings to have shipped out. i liked these so much i couldn't part with them, and now have them hanging in my home.

that led to a gradually more personal correspondence about life and art. a few months later i was able to stop in tucson on my way home from a business trip to dallas. terry met me at the airport: a small, dark, energetic woman who radiated openness and a fierce involvement with the moment.

terry's studio was in town near the university, part of a former commercial building turned artist colony. i loved its dusty windows, bright light and rambling empty space ... palettes and paint tubes strewn around the floor, acrylic splatters on the rug and walls; in the center of the room a red wagon, which she used to cart water to her work area from a deep stainless sink.

terry gave me a show of her works, watercolors and acrylics, and i got a dose of art jargon for the first time. this is a kind of rancid verbal mayonnaise that artists spread on their works in the expectation that it will make the works easier for critics to swallow. in art jargon paintings "address" issues and "evoke" feelings (something between a politician and a lapdancer) — i listened in my overeducated way without understanding a word she was talking about.

anyway, we had dinner and talked about more immediate topics: the business of art, the ins and outs of galleries and agents, the whole problem of marketing (the internet worked pretty well for terry), life on the planet, favorite paints, gossip about famous artists, the trials of art graduate school, and married life. terry was balancing home, family and work in her typical day, and it wasn't going well for her.

despite all that, she had the guts to keep painting, and painting wonderful stuff, day after day, a feat i found really miraculous. we wound up dinner with a walk in the timeless desert night.

i've continued corresponding with terry since then, talking with her occasionally on the phone. she has provided little technical assistance (though she did send me a few workshop videotapes), but has been a continual source of encouragement, perspective and humor.

as i met other artists i grew to appreciate her unique integrity, perseverence, and extraordinary talents.

we all have our separate paths. some artists mentor not by showing us a path but by demonstrating how we discover it within our own character.

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