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Artists Among Us: Artist Profile - Terry Elkins

Originally Posted: February 13, 2008


"Wainscott Pond", 2006, oil on canvas Photos by Gordon Matheson.


Continuing with our artist profiles of artists both living and working in the Hamptons, our next artist is Terry Elkins of Sagaponack.

Born in Vicksburg, MS in August 1951, Elkins attended Sam Houston University in Huntsville, TX, and received his B.F.A. in 1975. He then went on to attend the University of Houston in Houston, TX, and received his M.F.A. in 1978.

Elkins has taught as an Adjunct Professor of Art & Art History at La Verne University in CA, as well as the North Harris County College in Houston, TX. Over the past several years Elkins has taught and conducted classes at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, and The Victor D'Amico Art Center at the Art Barge in Amagansett.

Elkins has also been the recipient of both the 1991 and 2005 Pollock Krasner Foundation grant. He was the 2003 Artist In Residence at the Frederic Remington Art Museum, in Ogdensburg, NY, and the 1998 Artist In Residence at The Warhol Preserve, sponsored by the Nature Conservancy in Montauk.

Terry Elkins

As a member of numerous art organizations such as Plein Air Peconic, Elkins has spent many years giving back to his community - serving as both an EMT and member of the Bridgehampton Volunteer Fire Department.

Elkins further donates a portion of the sale of his lighthouse pieces to the Cedar Island Restoration Fund. He remarked, "As a board member of the Long Island Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society I do what I can for the local cause, so please include the link to find out more about the Society at www.LILighthouseSociety.org."

Elkins has had numerous solo exhibitions over the years, his most recent being his 2006 exhibition at the Montauk Lighthouse and the Hampton Road Gallery in Southampton. Elkins' work is among the collections of Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, NY; the Sony Corporation, New York, NY; the Sysco Corporation, Houston, TX; Microfibers, Providence, RI; and Chase Bank, Houston, TX as well as numerous private collections.

When asked to give a statement as to how he views his art he simply stated, "Sometimes I think my paintings might end up being a footnote in time of this area where we live, hanging on the wall in a house, built where I once stood and painted."

When did you start making art and what medium(s) did or do you work in or consider to be your roots in art?

Terry Elkins: Making art has been something I've done since childhood. I was the kid who was always drawing in class, often when I should have been paying attention. By the time I was in eighth or ninth grade I was chosen from my school to take classes at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. I had to be there every Friday afternoon. What kid wants to go to school on a Friday afternoon? Even today though I remember how much I enjoyed it. What started out as an avocation ended up as a career path. It's hard to define my roots though. Throughout college I tried a lot of different subjects and methods of working, but I've come back to the two things I enjoy the most, painting and being outdoors.

Today I mostly work in oils. Oil is a more dynamic medium than acrylic for example. Oil paint has "body", it stands up or holds its shape. Different colors have a slightly different consistency, opaqueness and transparency. Some colors dry faster than others. Acrylics tend to flatten out when you squeeze the pigment out of the tube and onto the palette. It doesn't hold its shape. Each color dries at the same speed to the same flat sheen. I encourage my students to use oils. It's a little harder to get the hang of, but you can do more with it, like painting wet into wet. If you are careful with oils you can brush red into green and it won't run together. You can't do that with acrylic. However, some people don't like the smell, and can have an allergic type of reaction when it gets on your skin. Then acrylics make for a good alternative medium.

"Cedar Island Lighthouse", 2006, pencil/collage

What is it about the Hamptons that brought you here and enticed you to stay, work, and pursue your art here as opposed to some place else?

TE: I grew up in Texas. We lived in the countryside just outside Houston. I was always outdoors. My favorite artists were Remington and Wyeth. By the time I left for college, the fields where I hunted birds and found arrowheads, and the landscapes that inspired my first sketches were gone - lost to suburbia. After I completed my M.F.A. I came to New York City like many young artists, to find a loft, get into a gallery and be somebody. By then my work was abstract. I started to have shows and get noticed.

Then a friend brought me out to the East End. The landscape, beaches and bays were like I had heard, bathed in peninsular light. It wasn't until I moved here in 1987 that I came back to my roots so to speak. My work began to change. My SoHo art dealer cursed me. One of my buddies, Jim Gingerich, was painting outside and I tagged along one day. Painting outdoors was one of the most difficult things I had tried. My first attempts were a disaster, but I kept trying and I've been working in this way ever since.

Inevitably though, like the landscape from my childhood, the East End has gone through its own dramatic change. Local farmers are fewer and the Baymen have almost disappeared. The open space of farms and fields has been obscured by mega-homes and private hedges, but there are still plenty of scenic places to work. Sometimes they are right in front of you if you just pull over to the side of the road and look. I also like to travel and I paint wherever I go, Cape Cod and Maine in the summer, California in the winter. Sometimes I think painting is just an excuse to be outdoors.

How do you support yourself as an artist?

TE: There was a time when I didn't. I did picture framing, cabinet and furniture building, construction work, whatever I needed to do to support my artistic habit. In the past 15-20 years it has been through the sale of my work from the studio, and commissions or shows in galleries. About five years ago I started reproducing my work. It's turned into an accidental business. Last year my poster sales may have actually surpassed my painting sales. It's good for the ego when I sell a painting for thousands of dollars but I get just as much satisfaction knowing my reproductions might be enjoyed by someone who can only afford a $25 print. The little guy means just as much to me as the big collector. Many times a collector will ask for a discount. I've never heard the little guy say, "Would you mind selling me this $25 poster for $15?" It's usually the big guy who cries poor. Imagine that!

Why live and work in the Hamptons as opposed to elsewhere?

TE: I could not have chosen a better place to live if I'd tried. The local folks, the landscape, the history and tradition here, the artistic community, being able to live by the water or look up and see the stars at night. The East End has it's own unique beauty and for such a small community it's very sophisticated. You find people here from all walks of life and different parts of the country and world.

"Moonlight Night", 2006, oil on canvas

There's something that draws everyone here. It's a beautiful part of the country and as a landscape painter it's certainly had an impact on my work. I'm often overwhelmed by the nature around me. I'll set up to paint and then wander around for hours exploring, only to go home at the end of the day with the same blank canvas I started out with, but I'll bring home a couple of baseball size luminite nodules I've found below the bluffs in Montauk. For the amateur geologist this area is fascinating. For the stargazer the night sky is pristine. If you like the water there are so many ways to enjoy it. There's something here for everyone. Perhaps that's why people keep coming out here.

What local environmental or historical aspects of the Hamptons do you relate to that may or may not be reflected in your medium?

TE: About ten years ago I joined the Bridgehampton Fire Department as an EMT. It's a great tradition that is in jeopardy today because we need volunteers. One day I was in the studio working and complaining to myself because a painting just wasn't going well. My pager went off and I thought, this is great, just what I need while I'm trying to concentrate. We ended up taking someone to the hospital, and on the way home I thought to myself, I'm not having a bad day after all. The person I took to the hospital is having a bad day. I get to go home and paint.

There is no doubt in my mind this perspective on life has helped my work in subtle ways, in that I don't take my situation for granted. There's not a better way to serve your community, and I've discovered that the more I've given, the more I've gotten back. I don't think I could have done this somewhere else. I'm fortunate to discover that I've been able to help others in this way. There is a great reward in realizing this.

What artists do you feel have influenced you and or your work?

TE: I've always been interested in American artists. It's the Americans who inspire me like John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Thomas Moran, William Merritt Chase, William Wendt, Edgar Payne, and Maynard Dixon to name a few. I could go on, there are so many. Their work is unique to the American experience, in part, because they also frequently painted outdoors and worked in many places where I follow today.

Sheridan Lord worked out here. It's interesting to stand where he worked, to look out over the landscape from Lopers Path or Windy Hill in Bridgehampton and note the change that has occurred in the past twenty-five or thirty years. I also try to look carefully at their work, to study and employ their techniques of painting and composition.

"Napeague", 2005, oil on canvas

What advice would you give an emerging artist?

TE: It sounds a bit like a cliché but pursue your dream. So many around you will try to discourage you, put you down, even friends, family and other artists, but don't give up. I was watching the Super Bowl pre-game show last week. Michael Strahan was being interviewed. He said, "We don't give up. We keep fighting to the end of every game." He said it with such conviction, I knew right then that the Giants were going to win. You can't stop someone with that kind of attitude. I've often thought of painting a bit like playing baseball - you get up to bat, sometimes you get on base, often you'll just strike out but every now and then you hit a home run. Keep practicing and you will get better. Your reward might be years down the road but it's waiting for you. If you're doing what you love, even if you don't "get rich", you'll be happy and you'll be a winner. That's the secret to success. Then there's practice and just plain hard work. Sometimes a little luck comes into the picture but the harder you work the luckier you get.

What gives you an edge (if any)?

TE: At 56 I feel like that I'm in my prime as an artist. I'm doing my best work. There are things I've done in the past couple of years that I just wasn't able to conceive or do five or ten years ago. I've also started reproducing my work as a means of making a living. There's something very creative about developing a business and marketing your work. I wouldn't have had the mind-set for this earlier on in my career. But the business side isn't for everyone, especially the artist. There just aren't enough hours in the day. I still get more satisfaction making art than selling art. It's a tough balancing act.

What are you working on now, and are you involved in any upcoming shows or exhibitions?

TE: Winter is the best time to stay in and do studio work. I have several lighthouse images almost ready for reproduction. My poster business is mostly wholesale and therefore seasonal. I'd like to be out west again and paint for three or four weeks. At some point, when I have a good body of work together, I'll be able to have a show out there, but nothing planned as yet.

A few years ago I became involved with Plein Air Peconic. We are a group of artists who work with the Peconic Land Trust, painting on sites under their jurisdiction. A proceed of our sales are donated to the Trust. We have a couple of shows planned for the spring and summer. More information is available at www.peconiclandtrust.org.


Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.




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