Dion Terry doesn’t typically title his paintings. In fact, “The Spirit of South Dupre,” the painting of the costumed bird on the cover of CityBeat this week, is only the second piece Terry’s ever given a name.
He says the painting—acrylic on a wood panel—was inspired by his recent trip to New Orleans. He and his friends stayed in a house just off of South Dupre Street, and when they first pulled into the neighborhood, there was a bounce house in the middle of the street.
“It was like a ’hood, but some of the greatest people live there,” Terry says. “They’re just so friendly, man.”
While in New Orleans, he and his friends were sitting outside on a porch, sipping wine, and a neighbor dropped by and brought them an extra bottle. Terry tried to give him an art print in return, but the guy wouldn’t accept it. He said the bottle was just a way of welcoming the visitors to the neighborhood.
“You go to New Orleans and you feel how heavy everything is,” Terry says, “and how simple it is at the same time. The history—the fucking history, you know. Fuck. I got back and I painted that. I felt so inspired. I’m still inspired today. I couldn’t name it anything else: ‘The Spirit of South Dupre.’ The people there, they’re so simple. They’re honest, they’re real, you know. It felt good.”
Terry’s work comes directly from his life experiences. Because of that, his style and subject matter change frequently. The image of a bird dressed up as a human, for example, was burned into Terry’s head during a trip to San Francisco. He met an artist who performs taxidermy on animals, then dresses them in little handmade outfits. He couldn’t shake the eerie effect it created, and he’s been painting the series ever since.
His birds could disappear at any moment, though. He’s got a show opening later this week, but he hasn’t even started on most of the work. If he starts too soon, he says there’s a chance he won’t like the work he’s done when it comes time to hang the show.
“I can’t even categorize what I’m doing because it changes so frequently,” Terry says. “My paintings are all from the hip, I guess. It’s everything I’ve learned in my life—going through shit. This is what the outcome is right now.”
Terry grew up on the Navajo reservation near the Four corners area of the United States, and he’s been drawing since he was a boy. He entered his first drawing contest when he was young—the third or fourth grade—and ended up in third place.
“I drew a G.I. Joe Cobra tank or something,” he said, laughing. “And when I went in and they told me I won, they gave me a curling iron for a prize. So, that was my first award for art. It’s hilarious. But, yeah, I’ve always been drawing—always.”
Dion Terry’s work will be featured in a show opening from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at Bedouin Vintage Collective, 2621 El Cajon Blvd. in North Park.