Bay Area Artist Rory Terrell on Earth, Oil, and Infused
Ethan Kalan: You’ve got this awesome exhibit opening up at the Float Center Gallery in Oakland, California. Can you tell me a bit about what kind of work you have going on there and how it all came to be?
Rory Terrell: Right now, I have 19 pieces from my Oil and Earth series, which uses motor oil. I have five litho prints and three paintings, and the rest are mixed media. I take a Plexiglas container and fill it up with used oil or dirt, and then I pour the used motor oil on top of it. When I first moved to Oakland last November, I started emailing all of these galleries, and the Float Center Gallery was the first one to reply. I set up a time to display my work and now it’s up and hanging.
EK: And this is your first show, right?
RT: Well, it’s my first show in California. This is the first show with all of my—well almost all—of my Oil and Earth pieces.
EK: Why did you decide to do a show that only features these works?
RT: I’ve been working on this project for a few years, and I finally have a good body of work to show. It’s a new form, using the used oil and the dirt; it’s kind of a new form of painting in a non-traditional sense.
EK: It’s very unique. You think about traditional art and you think about painting or pastels or something like that. How did the idea come to you to use motor oil and dirt?
RT: It was weird. I was going to school at Boise State University, and I was working with Plexiglas and learning the different layers I could make with it. One of my professors thought it was really interesting and said I should explore it more. I wanted to use motor oil and started saving it when I would change the oil in my car. But then I wanted to start painting with it on canvas. The issue arose of how to get it to dry without it running all over the place. I got the idea of making a Plexiglas container and submerging the painting in oil in the container. Then I started experimenting with dirt as a reflection on pollution. I lived in Australia in 2009 and, while I was there, the Queensland oil spill occurred and it triggered something in me to speak out.
EK: Did your art reflect things that you felt passionately about before this? What was it about this cause that really spoke to you?
RT: The fact that there’s so much disregard for our environment. The oil spill that I witnessed was caused by a captain of a ship who didn’t obey the Australian Coast Guard. I went to the beaches afterwards and they were just ruined; there were floating dead fish everywhere and there was oil on everything. It made me sick inside just thinking about how one person’s greed could cause so much devastation. It’s so unfair to have one person take so much from so many others. I haven’t been back since August 2009, but when I left, they had excavated all of those beaches.
Australians, or at least the ones that I was hanging out with, are very environmentally conscious. They recycle everything, walk everywhere or ride their bikes whenever they can. That really influenced me a lot.
EK: Getting back to some of your work, how do you get your oil? Do you just offer to change your friends’ oil all the time?
RT: I do actually! I get some oil from an older couple that I know from their motorcycles, but they drive so infrequently that the oil isn’t dirty enough to stick. I have some other friends that don’t take good care of their vehicles, so I offer to change their oil. The darker and dirtier it is, the more contrast will show against the dirt that I use. I take used oil from dirt bikes, motorcycles, old cars—even my old car. I wasn’t very good at up keep, and I’d probably change the oil every five or six thousand miles so the oil was definitely dirty.
EK: How did you finally get the oil to stick to the canvases?
RT: That was quite the process. I started out mixing some Japan Drier and some impasto resin—which is a thick application of paint used in a specific area to invoke atmospheric perspective or amplify expression—to try and hold it together, but none of that was working. Then I got the idea of reducing some oil. I took a gallon of used oil up in the mountains with my camp stove. I boiled it down to about a quart, and it made almost a gooey paste. From that I’d mix in Japan Drier and use that for my print-making ink. From there I’ll add that resin, and I can use that as paint. There was definitely some trial and error, and it took me a good month to figure out how to use the oil for a specific purpose.
EK: So you’re sort of part artist, part chemist.
RT: A little bit, yeah. I did feel bad when I was reducing that oil because I knew that I was putting toxins in the air. I remember thinking, ‘Oh this is so bad, I should be in a filtered environment.’ But there’s just no place in Boise that would let me do that.
EK: Going over your work a little bit, you have a lot of Earth and natural elements in it, but some are very abstract as well. Where do you get your influence from?
RT: Some of it is Native American paintings, and some of the mixed media ones with layers of different colors of soils are an attempt to do landscapes. A lot of it is just experimenting to see what looks the most interesting. I make a lot of mockettes but then expand to make a more aesthetically pleasing piece. Some pieces are just part of the hydro carbon process, like a HazMat placard. I tried making an hourglass, and that piece is about a time frame. Time is running out when we’ll be able to use oil and fossil fuels.
EK: How do you see artists using an application like Infused to achieve the level of success that you’ve attained? How can this app help other artists get their work in a gallery?
RT: I have at least three ideas for using Infused. One would be for the artist studio if the artist had his work open for viewing at a studio while there was an art walk happening. And the same goes for a gallery. Like I think it’d be great to have my art tagged within a heavy traffic area, which could then lead the user to the gallery. And third is if a specific location pertained to a piece of artwork or the artist. For instance, if someone walks by the place an artist was while he or she made a piece of work like a landscape of Deloris Park in San Francisco, the landscape or the place that it was captured could be used by the viewer to juxtapose the artwork to the location.
Want to learn more about Rory Terrell and his Oil and Earth series? Check out his work at www.facebook.com/rorscreations. Share your art with the masses, and submit your work to Infused.