Interview with Terry Dixon


Neoteric Art: Give us some background history on yourself.

Terry Dixon: I am originally from the East Coast and grew up in a family that introduced me to the arts at a very young age. I started out learning about photography and this allowed me to start developing my creative eye. As years moved on and my vision for what I wanted to do with photography had expanded in many directions, my mind become this creative sponge that wanted to explore different ideas.

My art career and educational experiences changed when I landed in undergraduate art school in 1987. I became exposed to many various styles of art training and different approaches to integrating different mediums, which helped me express my artistic thoughts. As my first year passed in undergraduate art school, the flood gates opened up for me and I was exposed to digital art. This world of digital creations became a little scary at first, to say the least, because I was only knowledgeable about computers in the context of DOS and typing in codes to get a result.

I took to the use of the computer as a creative tool and my creativity jumped from one level to the next. I guess you could say that I became somewhat of a “Renaissance Man”, because my curious explorations in my early 20’s took me into video art, fine art animation and digital sound. But I must say that the computer didn’t totally divert me from my traditional studio art practices, it just enhanced my possibilities of combining traditional studio techniques with digital technology.

As time moved on I started combining my Fine Art Photography with my large-scale abstract drawings. The integration of these two mediums started me on my journey of exploring and developing my dynamic use of color and raw materials on the surface of my creations.

dixon_re-enslavement_2008.jpgDuring my various growth periods in my life as an artist, and finishing graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1995, I road in and out of different approaches to deliver my creative vision to my audience. My knowledge of technology and creativity was at a boiling point and I had to regroup my thoughts and build forward.

The turning point of my creative switch started to regenerate in 1999 and new thoughts and ways to continue to combine creative technology with my fine art studio techniques continued to flourish. I had an interesting trial and error period with my new techniques, but I got the formula down and I embraced the use of digital photography and juxtaposed my fine art abstract photographic images with my expressionistic style of paintings.

I took to the streets of Chicago and started to continue my roots of urban photography and just started capturing society as a whole. My use of various mediums and letting the world land on my creative surfaces has opened different directions in my creative exploration of my current artwork and I guess you can say that my mind is continuing to push me into various dynamic directions within my art.

image-3-dixon-bru-copyrig.jpgNA: Describe your work and thought process.

TD: My work has always been very intuitive, but in the past five years I have started to sketch out my creative thoughts on a regular bases. I know that we have a lot of ideas locked away in our minds and that’s exactly where I kept my creations for several years.

I let my mind flow through out my creative process, and I try not to think about too many technical things based on the art work until I am ready to finish the final execution of my piece. I find that walking away from a body of work for maybe a couple of days or more can help the focus point of what I am trying to say. If you think too hard about your piece, you can ultimately destroy the outcome of the art. Just flow with it!

My thought process is also inspired by music; jazz being the main focus in many of my creations. I often work in silence and this allows for me to shift gears, pull back and observe what I have created.

Over the years my art has taken on many creative facets. I have experimented with various mediums that I have been able to use in a very effective way of expressing motion and rhythm in my work. My unique line style that I have incorporated in my art over the years has changed through the course of time and has been called animated, kinetic and schematic. My unique line concept is used to connect with other imagery in my pieces, giving life to various subject matters on the surface of my creations.

dixon_slope-no12_2008.jpgNA: You say your new body of work is the start of a long journey in your exploration of the re-enslavement in labor camps and racism of African Americans in the United States from the Civil War to World War II. Please elaborate.

TD: In my current body of work I am focusing on the subject matter of the Re-Enslavement of African Americans and the racism that paralleled it from the Civil War to World War II.

A good number of people are a little confused when I bring up the topic because they either don’t know that it existed within American history or they even think that it’s going on to this day. But I will not get into that at this point in time.

I was inspired by the topic of Re-Enslavement because a recent book was released by author Douglas A. Blackmon, titled Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African Americans. The first thing that hit me about the topic was the photographic images that I came across as I was doing research on the subject matter. The photographs and research that I have been involved with has been so powerful that it sparked something deep within me and inspired me create a new body of work that reflected this most powerful and hidden piece of American history that has been so easily brushed under the rug.

The first art piece I created from my readings and research is a piece titled Slope No.12, which was a coal-mining shaft in the Deep South that housed African American men of various ages in labor camps. Labor camps of this kind were created and fueled from the shady rules of the Jim Crow Laws of the south. I used abstract photographs, raw canvas, wire, acrylics, wood and graphite to create a powerful portrayal of being trapped. In many cases the process of re-enslavement sealed the doom for many innocent black men who were jailed in labor camps for the assumption that they had created a crime and were wrongly accused.

I have been working on this body of work since June of 2008 and have created five pieces based on this subject. Each one of the pieces that I have worked on has pulled me closer to the topic and has made me realize that deep inside myself, as an African American male, there is some type of personal direct connection that I feel compelled to tap into and continue this journey of creating art that is inspired by this subject matter.

image-10-dixon-listen-cop.jpgNA: You were born in Washington DC, received your BFA in Atlanta and your MFA in Chicago and have been in Chicago ever since. Do you consider Chicago to be your home? Also, how would you describe the Chicago art scene?

TD: Chicago is my home, but wherever I lay my artistic mark is also considered to be a home for me. Chicago has been good to me and I can’t complain. I have been able to have some very strong solo and group exhibitions that have turned out really well over the years.

The Chicago art scene is interesting and I try to give all the different styles of work and artist a chance to say what they have to say before I start criticizing a particular art piece. At one point I thought that a lot of Chicago artists were painting with only dark tones of color; maybe it’s because the majority of the year Chicagoans are blanketed by more of an overcast or matted light source because of our geographical location. Chicago still has room to grow and there is a lot of good art here. I see that some artists do take risks in their work, but make it a solid risk, not a gimmick.

I think the Chicago art scene is a very tight network of artists, gallery owners and curators. A tight network is sometimes hard to crack, but over time, as you keep working towards your goal, you slowly drip into the right network of people.

NA: Who are some of your favorite painters?

TD: I have many but I will list these seven artists for now: Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Zhou Brothers, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, William H. Johnson and Jackson Pollock.