Christopher Terrell says his artwork began with this prayer: “I want to be able to draw.”
The Raleigh native remembers being 4 or 5 years old, sitting at his grandmother’s kitchen counter, asking God’s help to make pictures as nice as the ones he’d seen his cousin draw.
“I wanted people to see what I was seeing,” said Terrell, 36. “I wanted to be able to translate what I saw and experienced so others could see and experience the beauty or awe of the moment as I witnessed it, and then captured with my paintbrush or pencil.”
As creator of the inaugural Raleigh Art Festival coming to Midtown on Thursday and Saturday, Terrell is hoping we’ll take time to see what he and other artists are contributing to Raleigh’s art scene, culture and history.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
The festival, synced with First Friday, offers a two-evening exploration of culinary, visual and performing arts. It begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Mantra Indian Cuisine & Bar, 116 N. West St. # 100. There, we can try new food, listen to neo-soul band Lost N Sound and meet local artists and browse and buy their work.
The festival continues at 7 p.m. Saturday with a visual artist meet-n-greet at the Wilmoore Café, 223 S. Wilmington St., known for coffees, teas, homemade soups and locally sourced deli-style offerings. Another neo-soul group, Urban Silk, will perform.
Keith McLaurin is one of the visual artists on tap for the festival. His Sweet Cream Factory Images feature abstracts and what he calls vibe art.
“It’s going to be an explosive connection,” said McLaurin, 31, a native of Clinton who attended St. Augustine’s University. “This gives people a chance to see the vast categories of art and get more into the culture of art.”
McLaurin said he looks forward to meeting new people. It’s the perfect, though rare, opportunity to explain his use of bright colors and rhythms, and his stroke of circular patterns, lots of lines and shapes. He will help us zero in on closed-eyed characters who represent the imagination of artwork and his signature ladders, which represent “all the steps I’ve been through in life; the ups, the down, the bumps, the bruises,” he said.
Shabana Rahman, a henna tattoo artist, will introduce the body art well-known to her Indian roots.
“It’s great he is not only sharing his own talent and expertise, but also opening the way for others of us to do so as well,” Rahman, 27, said of Terrell. “With events like this, the art scene is growing.”
A lifetime of art
Terrell’s artistic talent bloomed at Fuller Elementary School. By middle school at Ligon, classmates would pay a buck for him to draw comic book characters they would hang on their bedroom walls. It was a great gig for a kid who loved to draw, and who, already on reduced lunch, was anxious for more stuff to draw with and on.
After Athens Drive High School, Terrell went to Brevard College, known for its art program. But he didn’t major in art. Instead, he focused on what he needed for a career working with special-needs kids and basketball.
Even so, Terrell began showing and selling his art professionally in the mid-’90s.
In 2009, he launched the Obama Art Museum in his Christopher Terrell Art Gallery, then on Lenoir Street. The museum, currently searching for a new home, is not about politics or votes, Terrell says. “We’re campaigning for the arts,” he said. The museum houses pieces created by artists worldwide that capture Obama’s image in different styles, textures and mediums.
“This place preserves the first time in American history all races came together and elected an African-American president,” he said. “It is a time in history I wanted to capture with art. It is almost like hieroglyphics on the walls in Egypt, a photo in time or a time capsule of America’s first.”
Terrell hopes to reopen the museum in the RDU International Airport in a space expected to be ready in 2012. “It would be one of a kind,” he said. “We’re just waiting on the good news.”
Meanwhile, Terrell leads art walks to places of art and culture downtown and in Glenwood South. He’s also promoting a new First Friday smart phone app he created to help us navigate the evening out. Some proceeds from the .99-cent app help provide materials for kids who attend Terrell’s Hustle & Flow music and art school.
Next year, Terrell plans to introduce Raleigh’s own African-American film festival, “as classy as Sundance,” to showcase independent film and documentary makers in our communities.