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An Artist Out of Obscurity

Oct 08, 2015 10:32AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

The cramped space of artist Evan Terry’s basement studio. Photo courtesy of Evan Terry

By Alisha Soeken

Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is world-renowned. But before that distinction, he was just a working artist, a man who died in debt and was barely recognized in his lifetime. Such a man is local painter Evan Terry, Jr. 

Terry was born in Brigham City, Utah in a hospital for WWII amputees. His parents, Evan, Sr. and Joan Call, were people of faith and hard work. They owned a beautiful red brick, Queen Anne-style mansion in the Avenues. Terry grew up in that mansion and had a boyhood full of adventure. His brother Richard Terry remembers float-walking in Terry’s arms as they played man on the moon, taping bugs to Frisbees to test if they could afterwards walk straight, and how Terry would sneak into a small, 3-foot high crawlspace below that family mansion to shoot his guns at a dirt wall target. 

Vermeer was also born to hard working parents. His father Reijnier Janszoon was a middle-class worker of silk and owned an inn, which was a considerable financial burden and became Vermeer’s obligation after his father’s death. Vermeer had 15 children, and so, like Terry, his family and work obligations limited the time he was able to dedicate to his art. 

Terry’s father Evan, Sr. served in the Army during World War II and was awarded a bronze star medal. Because of his father, Terry chose to enter the service after earning a BFA degree in drawing and painting from the University of Utah. It wasn’t until 2005, thirty years after studying under Alvin Gittins, V. Douglas Snow and Earl Jones, that Terry had the time to begin his consuming study of Vermeer’s work. “I chose Vermeer because I love his subject matter, color, style and the period,” Terry said. After he painted a few of Vermeer’s works, Terry realized it would be possible to complete the 37 paintings attributed to Vermeer, and so he began that task.

Terry didn’t have access to Vermeer’s original works, so using only photographs, he painted those representations. “My intent was never to make exact copies of Vermeer, but rather to use my own methods of painting to create a fairly accurate copy with a focus on principles of color, light and shadow, and emotional depth.” Terry went on to say, “Because I felt these focal points were the weakest areas of my earlier paintings, this study became very personal to me.”

The precision of linear perspective in Vermeer’s paintings led people to believe that he used a camera obscura, a small device with a hole in one side, which lets light in and allows an image to be reproduced, highly accurately, onto paper. Vermeer would then paint his originals from that reproduced image. “In my study of Vermeer’s works, I had to learn to see better, perhaps similar to the way Vermeer used a camera obscura to help him see more clearly,” Terry said.

Perhaps one of the most impressive and surprising factors in Terry’s completion of Vermeer’s works was that he did so almost entirely in dim light and cramped space. Terry’s home basement serves as his studio, and with a mere 200-square feet and a ceiling as low as 5’6”, it was not ideal. Without natural light, Terry would occasionally have to rework or touch up his paintings after seeing them for the first time outside his basement. But despite the natural lack of it, light, and Terry’s use of it, is one of his artistic fortes.

It took Terry nine years to complete Vermeer’s 37 paintings, and in celebration of that completion, a private reception was held at F. Weixler Co. gallery on Saturday Aug. 29.  All 37 paintings were on display, and friends and family of Terry came to support him and appreciate the work of almost a decade.  

The event was paired beautifully with the music of Johan Svendsen, Fritz Kreisler and John Williams, some of Terry’s favorites.  Bonnie Terry, associate concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony, an artistic genius in her own right, and daughter of Terry, played the violin, accompanied by Denise Farrington, during the evening. 

Richard Terry enjoyed both the music and art of the evening and said of his brother’s craft, “Evan utilizes a strong sense of realism when painting abstract, and a touch of abstract when painting the real. His Vermeers reflect that style and aren’t strict copies.” 

After the private reception, Terry’s work continued to be displayed at F.Weixler Co. and was part of the Salt Lake City Gallery Stroll, an occurrence at galleries across Salt Lake which gives the public a chance to meet artists and browse art free of charge. 

When asked what Terry would do with the 37 paintings after the Gallery Stroll, he chuckled and said, “I guess they will go back down to the basement.” It’s strange to think that nine years of brilliance will remain unseen, perhaps like Vermeer’s works, for centuries after his death. 

Yet the beauty of art is not confined by time, and in the words of Natalie Emonin, Terry’s youngest daughter, “My Dad is a true artist.  He’s only ever painted for an intense love and passion for the art.  Even though he worked two jobs up until retirement, he still found time to develop his craft and create inspiring beauty in a dark, old, cement-walled basement. I’m truly amazed that my Dad was able, from humble darkness and obscurity, to paint such warmth and elegantly graceful works of art.”

The Salt Lake Gallery Stroll FAQs

When is Gallery Stroll? Gallery Stroll is held the third Friday of each month, except in December when it is held on the first Friday.

What time does Gallery Stroll begin? Gallery Stroll officially begins at 6 p.m. and continues until 9 p.m., but some galleries remain open all day and stay open after 9 p.m. 

Where does Gallery Stroll start? Gallery Stroll is a self-guided tour. You can begin wherever you like to make the most of your experience. There are certain areas with a higher concentration of galleries, if you are interested in walking. Feel free to call 801.870.0956 for specific questions.

Do I need a ticket to get into Gallery Stroll? Gallery Stroll is a free, public event. No tickets are required. The doors are open and you are welcome to walk in.

Is there a map that shows me where all the galleries are? Yes, pick up a Gallery Guide at any participating business or download the map under the Current Stroll link (available one week before Gallery Stroll).

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