Q&A with Terrance D. Osborne
Greg Miles Photographs
Artist Terrance D. Osborne’s work is unmistakable when you see it: colorful and kinetic – houses are a swirl of fuchsia, citrine, taxi-cab yellow; musicians play instruments in rhythm to a soundless tune; a streetcar hints at jumping out of a painting and into your lap. Life, it seems, in Osborne’s world is a kaleidoscope in constant motion.
Osborne, a native of New Orleans, was drawn to art since childhood. But it was the fateful meeting of artist and mentor Richard Thomas that spurred Osborne from thinking about being artist to believing that he could be one.
And he has accomplished it. In addition to his own artwork and commissions for such groups as the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club and Nike, Osborne has created three New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival posters: For Congo Square he depicted Rebirth Brass Band in 2007 and Uncle Lionel Batiste in ’10; and in ’12, he had the honor of doing the main Jazz Fest poster of Trombone Shorty. All have been noted hits with Jazz Fest audiences, with the Rebirth poster being a best-selling Congo Square poster.
Osborne also has fun with his art: the Congo Square posters have connecting elements – so when you place them next to each other they could act as a diptych. And for the past two years, he has hidden his and his wife’s initials – T + S – somewhere in his paintings.
Osborne’s work is also accessible at various price points – ranging from $50 for a lithograph to $55,000 for an original painting. So, whether it is a lithograph, giclée, silkscreen or painting – there’s an Osborne that can bring a bit of the colorful mélange of New Orleans into your life.
What is your favorite piece that you have created? “For Nothing” (An acrylic on wood that you can see to the left of Osborne in the photo above.)
How much of your work is planned vs. “of the moment”? The idea is 80 percent complete before I start. I may start with an idea, with a little sketch on paper; then, if I’m inspired by it, I’ll sketch onto the wood – I don’t work on canvas.
Wood vs. canvas? I started off in wood, because as a college student it was a lot cheaper. An 8-foot-by-4-foot piece of wood you can get at Home Depot or Lowe’s costs $15 or $20; while for the same size canvas you would be paying hundreds of dollars. I can also do relief work in wood.
What kind of paint do you use? Acrylic
Tell us about your relief work. It’s hard to describe, but I would say it is sort of like a pop-up book.
When did you start doing relief in your work? I started while I was in college, 1998 or ’99.
How do you paint? After I sketch it, I black it out, just enough so you can still see the sketch lines. Then, I starting add color. I have to slowly illuminate the image until it comes to the point where I’m happy with the amount of light and shadow.
I’ve always been fascinated by light and shadow; and color is a way to express both.
What is the hardest thing to do for a painting (for example, to draw or paint hands)? Whenever I have trouble with something, I perfect it.
What was the first piece of art that you sold? I was in the 10th grade – about 16 years old – and I was working with pastels; I hadn’t even touched paints, yet.
So, the first thing I sold was a pastel piece. I was Richard Thomas’ assistant at the time, and the trade-off was that I would man the gallery and he allowed me to hang my work in there. The piece sold for $55 and it was a pastel of dancing figures.
Tell us about Richard Thomas and his influence on you becoming an artist. He was a mentor, and l see him like a father figure. I was fascinated that he was successful at being an artist. As a kid, you’re told by society, and even your parents, that you can’t be successful as an artist, you can’t make any money – be a doctor or a lawyer. So to see him was great. When I first met him and went to his gallery, he pulled out this big book that looked almost like a family album. Instead, it was cover-to-cover full of newspaper and magazine articles. I was amazed, and I said to myself, “That’s what I want. I want that kind of recognition.”
What artist or artists inspires you? John Singer Sargent – he’s a fascinating artist. Old Masters, and of course, Vincent Van Gogh for his understanding of color. Richard Thomas, and James Michalopoulos – he was probably my greatest second influence after Richard.
Most of the time, I don’t care who the artist is, I just look at the work. I sometimes don’t remember their names or where they’re from, because their artwork tells me everything I need to know without words.
Is your family artistic? My mom did art as a hobby – pastels, mainly serene and peaceful subjects. She probably had the biggest influence on me. My stepfather and oldest brother drew. My stepfather would do this thing, where he would get into almost a competitive thing with me – he would be, “I can draw hands better than you.” Then, I would really work on getting my anatomy right, so I could beat him at our next competition.
My wife, Stephanie, does a little bit of everything, she designed the mosaics in our house, as well as sculpture, and she paints and draws. My oldest son, LT (Little Terrance), is taking art at University of New Orleans and he’s a fantastic artist. He likes figurative drawing, and he works his art into stories, much like graphic comics. My middle son, Seth, is a culinary artist. And my youngest child, Sydni, she’s actually probably more of a natural artist than I expected. She does this thing that I used to do, which is if she doesn’t finish what she’s working on, she gets frustrated. She has to finish. A true sign of an artist.
What is your dream commission? To do a Jason Mraz album cover.
True Confession: I’m Buddhist.
At a Glance
Name: Terrance D. Osborne
Resides: Stonebridge (Gretna)
Born/raised: New Orleans
Family: My wife, Stephanie, our oldest son, Terrance, our middle son, Seth, and our daughter Sydni; as well as Toaster (Great Dane), Sarah (ShiPoo) and Jango (Cocker Spaniel)
Education: New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Sara T. Reed High School and a degree in Fine Arts from Xavier
University Favorite book: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Favorite movie: The Matrix
Favorite TV show: “Survivorman”
Favorite musician: Jason Mraz
Favorite food: Sushi
Favorite restaurant: Sake
Favorite vacation spot: Portland, Ore.