Thursday, January 12, 2012

Interview with Artist Terry Dixon — Part 3

I always tell my students
 to never give up your dream of being an artist . . . .
~ Artist and Educator Terry Dixon

This is the third of my three-part interview with Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Terry Dixon. You will find Parts 1 and 2 here and here, respectively.

* * * * *

Artist Terry Dixon in His Studio

Maureen Doallas: Recently, the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland acquired for its permanent collection your remarkable artwork Re-Enslavement. Tell us what this wonderful event means to you personally and professionally.

Terry Dixon: I am very honored to have my art become a part of the permanent collection at the David C. Driskell Center. I was given a tour of the vault and I was impressed with the center's collection of very well-known African-American artists. This opportunity is pivotal; my art career can only continue to go upward. [This is indeed a great honor for Terry. The art collection at the center includes work by some of our greatest African-American artists, including Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, and Jacob Lawrence.]

MD: Your current ongoing work on the series Re-Enslavement, which was inspired by Douglas A. Blackmon's ground-breaking book Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African Americans from the Civil War to World War II*, addresses racism in America. What is your intention in this clearly sociopolitical work? What do you hope will be viewers'  takeaway(s)? 

* Available in paperback (Anchor; Reprint, 2009) A Website is dedicated to the book. A PBS broadcast of a documentary based on the book is anticipated this year.

Terry Dixon, Re-Enslavement
Mixed Media, 78" x 78"
© 2008 by Terry Dixon

TD: After I was introduced to Blackmon's book, I was impelled to explore the subject of re-enslavement. The biggest impact of the book [came from] the photographs of the labor camp inmates. The images [so aroused] my curiosity that I was inspired to create new work in this direction, and [through my artmaking] I have become connected to the book's content.

During my research, I found out that re-enslavement occurred when black men who had been incarcerated on trumped-up charges, or actual crimes they had committed, were sold or forced into labor camps that corporations owned. I was floored! I had to do something as an artist to express my feelings about the subject matter.

My goal for this long, ongoing body of work is to educate the viewer, all viewers — and they may get a little edgy about the subject — about this American history. [The reality is these labor camps existed] but, for some reason, [their existence] has been brushed under the rug. As an artist, it's in my best interest to reveal what has been hidden and express my views.

MDWhat, if any, changes in your art have you observed as a result of your immersion in the issues you've been examining while creating this body of work? 

TD: As I have been working on this subject matter for the past three years, I have seen my work take on dynamic changes, [not only] in subject matter [but also] the materials that I use to create my art. This has been a positive area for my growth as an artist.

MDWhere do you envision this project taking you?

TD: My future vision is [to inspire] a group collaboration. I would like to find other artists who are focusing on issues that parallel this subject and make others aware of this "hidden" history of the United States.

MD: Of what piece of artwork are you most proud, and why?

TD: Wow! That is not an easy question but I would have to say that I am very proud of Re-Enslavement [see image above], because it contains a hidden message and code.

Terry Dixon, Man & Bicycle
Mixed Media
© 2007 by Terry Dixon

MD: You teach classes in photography, animation, digital art, and sound and video production. What would you say is the most important aspect of your art teaching? 

TD: I truly appreciate giving back to the students. There is no experience that can beat the feeling of inspiring someone who is learning a new technique or skill.

MD: What do you learn from your students?

TD: As a professor, I try to stay two steps ahead of my students but I am continually learning from my mistakes, whether they are big or small. I learn how to adapt to different learning experiences of my students. Teaching is a 360-degree learning experience, because there is always a give-and-take. 

MD: What advice or encouraging words do you offer to your students or others who confide that they aspire to be artists exclusively?

TD: I always tell my students to never give up your dream of being an artist, and always continue to learn different skills. If you want to be strictly a fine artist, you always do best to also learn a different skill in digital media. Establishing an integrated interdisciplinary practice will carry you, your career as an artist, a long way down the road.

MD: How do you frame for your students the image of "working artist"?

TD: A working artist is smart and remains diligent in his or her focus on the business. Stay aware of changing trends in the art market, and always be straightforward about the mission of your work.

Terry Dixon, Will I See You Again?
Mixed Media, 36" x 48"
© 2010 by Terry Dixon

MD: Imagine for a moment having achieved great public acknowledgment as an artist. What might a critic say about your work. Alternatively, how would you like your work to be remembered?

TD: "Dixon's work is layer in various media and photographic images that capture the eye. The work is so full of texture that you want to reach out and touch it. Dixon touches on various topics that make viewers think about what they are seeing on the surface of his creations."

A critique may try to compare me to others but my work always will stand out as being unique, because of my style.

I would like to be remembered as an artist who was unique and stood out from the others.

MD: Any upcoming exhibitions?

TD: I will be exhibiting in a group show in 2013 sponsored by the David C. Driskell Center and the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. This art exhibition, focusing on art based on the topic of jazz music, will travel to different locations in the United States.

Terry, it has been my great pleasure to talk with you about your life and career as a successful artist. Thank you for allowing me to introduce you in some depth to my readers.

All Images © Terry Dixon Used with Permission of the Artist. Click Image to Enlarge View.

Terry Dixon Exhibition Resume

Terry Dixon Portfolio: Gallery 1 and Gallery 2

Photographic Juxtapositions

Terry Dixon on FaceBook and Twitter

Terry Dixon's Re-Enslavement Series on FaceBook (Additional images from the series may be seen here.)

Exhibitions at the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora


Louise Gallagher said...

Fantastic interview Maureen.

And I am stunned by the re-enslavement history.

Anonymous said...

that jazz show should be good.

Laura said...

What a remarkable man. And a very gifted artist. That It made my heart beat fast.

There is so much in our history that is hidden...shameful. I agree that we need to tell these stories. And find a way to bridge that history into a better future.

Art makes a good bridge.

S. Etole said...

Excellent interview ... and artist.