Alliance Art Gallery’s November guest artist Terry Britton says, “I am not conventional.”
She never abided by how-to-do-portrait art books.
“I may paint the eye first. Then the brow. No face yet,” she said, “I love doing eyes.”
Her bold commissioned acrylic portraits, with a hint of modernists such as Picasso, carry such a sense of personality that one feels welcomed into their world. She works from family photos, sometimes including family pets, in her studio in Quincy, Ill. She asks each client to talk about what makes them tick? Laugh? Excite them? Makes them unique?
For her, personality contains the critical element to be captured in the portrait. It guides her brush, just as much as the color of the eyes and the set of the chin. After all, each portrait tells a story. She wants a true story, revealed in the way the portrait will eventually unfold.
Her parents celebrated her “artsy” endeavors, including the eighth-grade portrait of a Cherokee chief which she still has — somewhere. Her grown twin daughters carry on the tradition, showering her with unconventional made-by-hand cards for every conceivable occasion. After all, they grew up in a household where all the neighborhood children showed up with pre-Halloween orange pumpkins.
“I was born creative,” Britton explains. “I did artsy stuff all my life.” So when she retired, she allowed freeform creativity to flow, and eventually came up with a type of portraiture that satisfied her.
She and her husband Roberto Stellino, part owner of Tiramisu restaurant, sit across from each other in the studio — she at the easel, he at his desk working on his business computer.
“My husband,” Terry admits, “has been my favorite person to draw since we met 30 years ago.”
She adds, “He is brutally honest.” If the personality hasn’t emerged, he will comment, “It’s just not right yet.” In the beginning years, this happened often. She’d ferret out the problem, white out the canvas, and start afresh.
But today, that rarely happens. Her inner eye seeks and finds that underlying personality, and she hones in on that in every aspect of the ensuing portrait.
She never has advertised or promoted herself. But when her loft got too full of canvases, she moved all the paintings to Tiramisu.
“Everything was for sale,” she laughed. “I had my own gallery.”
The rest, as is often said, is history. People loved her work and asked for commissioned portraits.
Her mischievous streak shows up on Facebook. As the painting barely begins to emerge, she posts painted clues — chin, angle of shoulder, nose. Her followers try to guess. As she progresses, she uploads the eye, mouth, cheek. After all, art lovers create a tight-knit community in Quincy. Perhaps the three cats will be the giveaway or eyeglasses.
Through vibrant color, a touch of abstraction, and a belief that personality underlies all portraiture, Terry Britton has created a unique body of art highly prized by those who have encountered it.