The Austin Chronicle

Studio Visits: Terri Thomas

Collaboration is a gift for this provocative artist

By Andy Campbell, June 6, 2014, Arts

In The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde ruminates on his local drugstore's ever-rotating display of dime-a-dozen romance novels, asking: "Why do we suspect that Silhouette Romances will not be enduring works of art?" He answers that romance novels are bought and sold in the market economy, and art, in contrast, belongs to the gift economy. If this seems Pollyanna-ish (because, aren't works of art bought and sold all the time? Sure.), Hyde's thesis is evident in the art of Terri Thomas. For her current Canopy exhibition, Thomas riffs off the form of the pillow book – originally an 11th century Japanese literary conceit – drawing out its pornotopic dimensions. Titled "Pillow Book as Inheritance," the installation is a culmination of years of work, which will, upon closing, become part of Hyde's preferred economic system. We talked in Thomas' studio, a few doors down from the Canopy gallery.

Austin Chronicle: Your studio seems really tidy. Is it always in this condition?

Terri Thomas: Actually, you're seeing it on the day I've spent hours cleaning it. I'm trying to make room for some of the big sculptures I will be taking out of my exhibit to prepare for my closing performance. Truthfully, I'm a pack rat. I save stuff for years, uncertain of how it will eventually find its way into my work. My home studio gets out of control. So far, I've managed to keep my Canopy space as bare as possible, allowing me to enter a good clean work environment.

AC: Because some components of your work are fabricated by others – like the glass bugs and spiders on some of the paintings – what other studio spaces do you use?

TT: This particular series has been very interesting for me. I knew that I wanted to do every perceived "no-no," such as incorporating both high- and lowbrow items, buying and collecting ready-mades, hiring local artists to contribute, while remaining central as the "maker" of my own work. I find it very inspiring to experience the talents of other artists in their respective workspaces. For my larger sculptures, I consult or work with Dan Lansford and Tanisha Fuller in their taxidermy studio, while casting and articulating my own sculptural cats and other raw animal forms. The glass works I envisioned were executed in collaboration with Micah Evans in his glassblowing studio. And usually, once my series of work is completed, I articulate my concepts in writing and finalize them with my editor, Debra Broz. Artists don't always work alone, and it's a great opportunity to learn and grow so much from these interactions and collaborations; I think it's the reason I have enjoyed sculpture so much. It feels inclusive and exciting, adapting my body to different environments – whether it be the studio that belongs to another, my garage, my yard, the new Canopy space, or my living room couch – that enables me to make the work and have a sense of socialization that I don't get from the solitude of painting.

AC: How do you "prepare" for your performance?

TT: The preparation for my performance is in my head-studio. Once an idea is mostly constructed, it relies heavily on collaboration, participation, and the unpredictability of others. My performances – this will be my third – don't usually have me at the center. However, this upcoming performance, for the first time, I will have only a tiny role ... but I'm still trying to figure my way out of it. We'll see.

"Terri Thomas: Pillow Book as Inheritance" is on view through June 7 at the Gallery at Canopy, 916 Springdale, and will close with a performance on Saturday, June 7, 8pm. Believe us, art lovers, Thomas' performance will not be one to miss. To see more of Thomas' artwork, visit

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