(Site-specific project at the Underwood Center, Lubbock, Texas - Fall, 2006)
Art Installation (Shades of Gray) 1995 - 1996
acrylic paint on wood, walls
14 x 30 x 8 feet
Art Installation 1975 - 1976
acrylic paint on wood, walls
"Narrative of Process: How I Created the Three Installations"
These first two art installations were created 20 years apart, in the same space. The
first installation was created while I was in art school. I began to formulate many of my
ideas about how to use an entire interior space as an artwork in this installation.
The second art installation was the completion of the first, in many ways. It comprised all walls, floor and ceiling. Every aspect of the space was considered and included, even lighting. The space functioned artistically as a sort of mobius painting. Within it, I created one of my chaotic (yet designed) line-texture artworks. Because all surfaces of the space were used, no conceptual edges were encountered. This created an interior "space" painting, or as it is commonly called, art installation. The effect was close to total.
The third installation, Progression and Evolution, was installed at the Underwood Center for the Arts, in Lubbock, Texas. It was not a mural. I did not have a plan, exactly. It was a narrative of process. Time will tell exactly what "narrative of process" means to me, in this context and in a more general way.
I worked on the installation and as I worked, the creative process was engaged and the "narrative of process" developed. I continued to work on it until the final day, October 16, 2006. Then it was painted over, and the project returned to its zero state. It had a lifespan of 2 months. Now it has a virtual life, on this website. Time will tell how long it "lives" here.
"Robert Terrell: Absorption into Art" by Glenn Brown, Ph.D.
(A critique of the 1995 Shades of Gray installation)
While a young man on an ethnological expedition, the great Russian modernist Vasily
Kandinsky noted with enthusiasm that entering the brightly colored interior of a peasant
cottage was something like the disorienting experience of being swallowed up by a painting.
Betrayed in Kandinsky's comment is a fantasy prevalent in generation after generation of
artists in the twentieth century: the dream of total absorption into art. From the Futurist
concept of a comprehensive art experience to the Abstract Expressionists' treatment of the
canvas as an 'arena in which to act,' the Pop artist's blending of art and life, and the
postmodernist's use of transmedia techniques to envelop the audience, the twentieth-century
artist has sought to close the frustrating gap between consciousness and the work of
The desire for total immersion in art has produced something wonderful, if rather unexpected, in Lubbock. Visitors to the home of artist Robert Terrell find that simply walking through the front door becomes a literal enacting of Kandinsky's metaphor. Since October of 1995, Terrell has devoted his spare time to transforming his living room into an installation intended to "transport the viewer into a space completely diffrent from the space of the everyday world: a novel visual and sensual space." This space is unlike that of any traditional painting or sculpture, and clearly departs from normal expectations for architecture. "Frames and edges have always bothered me," Terrell explains. "This you just fall into. There's no edge to separate the art from life. It's something like a mobius strip that keeps you going round and round endlessly."
There are no windows, doors or light fixtures visible in Terrell's constructed space. The rectangular shape of the large room has been distorted by relief panels in maple plywood that raise up from the floor, press in from the walls and hang down from the ceiling. The relationship between these sculpted elements is impossible to discern with precision, since the entire space has been painted in a monochrome gray ground with thick black lines tracing out broken forms over the varied surfaces. The inspiration for these lines has partly come from the work of the graffiti artist Keith Haring, but Terrell has been concerned with projecting his comic-style line into three dimensions. "I try to create textures with lines," Terrell says. "Most of my career I've tried to come up with different ways to create visual texture."
The textures produced within Terrell's installation help create optical illusions in terms of both space and motion. The overall effect of the room is serenity, but many individual elements, in as much as they can be isolated, suggest violent action. Although few elements actually move, the conceptual motion of the installation is significant. "This room is designed to shake peoples' ordinary mind-set about how things ought to appear," Terrell explains. "If they get shaken up enough they may begin to rearrange their mental organization toward new forms of creativity."
Although Terrell considers the work to be still evolving, the physical elements are complete. Back in the late 1970s, after finishing his B.F.A. at Texas Tech School of Art, Terrell moved out to California where he wrote electronic music. Now he plans to incorporate some of his musical compositions into his installation in order to augment the viewer's experience with information for the other senses. Like the German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, who amplified his work in collage to include the transformation of his home and eventually the bulk of all his experiences into art, Terrell has been inspired to produce poetry that he hopes eventually to integrate into his expanding work.