Thursday, December 18, 2014

Terese Nielsen: Creatures of Spirit

I've known Terese a few years now, although I have been acquainted with her work for a couple decades through the game Magic: the Gathering. I recall her coming onto the scene for me at about 1996, when she first started painting card art for the game. I remember being in awe of her Art Nouveauesque curls and lines and also feeling that dread that all illustrators feel when someone better than you hits the scene and you know you must step up your game or pack your bags. 

Unicorn, acrylic, colored pencil, gold leaf. Client: Bella Sera.
Fast forward, and Terese is an institution of sorts. She has several games under her belt, including World of Warcraft, M:tG, Dungeons and Dragons, and Bella Sera. She has created iconic images for the powerhouse of the Star Wars franchise. She has juried and been honored by Spectrum Fantastic Arts annual many times, and was Artist Guest of Honor at the monstrous GenCon convention this year. She travels the convention circuit regularly and is loved by thousands of gamers and art enthusiasts worldwide.

But, shockingly, she has never had a solo art show and rarely gets a chance to show the personal side of her talent.
Elephant, pastel, gold leaf, colored pencil.
Terese claims she's never been an "animal person", so it was possibly a surprise to herself that her body of work for this show would incorporate the animal form as it's primary narrative. She originally told me she was interested in pushing around the anthropomorphic qualities of mythological forms, although she was a little nervous about the timeline of the show - after all, she IS an illustrator by trade and her year was packed with projects. She also made a major move from California to Nevada this year, which was a bit of a time suck on her schedule. As all illustrators tend to do, she set her personal work for this show on the shelf until, mere months from opening, she sat down and addressed the show's theme. 

She didn't seem to have too much trouble turning inward for guidance; she seems to be a pretty in-touch type of person. However, guiding her forward was less of study in human mythology and more of a personal journey through the world of dreams with the form of Animal Spirit at the helm. Various critters, from Crow to Elephant, came forward in a totemic swath that translated into a series of seven pieces that make up Creatures of Spirit.
The Watcher (Crow), ink, acrylic, 23k gold leaf.
Terese clearly enjoyed working on these pieces, playing with various techniques from gilding to scratching the substrate to bring her images to life. Symbols and sacred shapes surround her figures. Her color palette is soft but punctuated by stabs of bright blues, yellows and reds. It's as if the animal dictated to her how it should be dressed and presented to the viewer and she happily complied. There is a lot of joy in this little series, and if it's not clear in reproduction, it's certainly apparent in the flesh.
Vulture, charcoal, oil, pencil, 23k gold leaf.
I wonder if it was a struggle to jump into this work, only to have to abruptly pull back out again to fulfill her order of illustration needed to pay the bills? As an illustrator, I know that when you have that rare opportunity to release your soul into your art, it's really difficult to return to the mundane humdrum of the daily grind, even if you love what you do. In talking to Terese, I know she's already working on a larger body of work in relation to this series, with at least one piece sized out at a hefty three-by-five feet (her biggest painting to date). I know she's toying with the idea of turning this project into a deck of divining cards. Regardless of what she does next, I definitely know she's released something from inside that she can no longer contain, and we, as viewers, are more than happy to receive. I know I want to see more.

This month's show not only exhibits the seven Creatures of Spirit pieces but also sketches and finished work from her professional portfolio. Her show runs through January 2nd, 2015 and I highly recommend to make time to view if you are in the Seattle area. Please see our website for times and details! 

~Julie Baroh, December 2014

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