Terry Kihara

Normally, artists speak in their own words on this blog. Today’s post is unusual in that I will be writing about the work of another artist, my dear friend, Terry Kihara.

I first met Terry in 1996, shortly after I started teaching art history, and since that time have been fortunate to see a fair amount of her work, a difficult thing given her modesty.

In a day when so much art screams “look at me,” striving for grand and often obvious effect, Terry’s stands out for its subtlety, elegance, and reserve.
Only last month, she sent me two drawings–watercolors with graphite–and a soft, small stone, which are reproduced above. At first I didn’t see the connection, but with her explanation that the images reinterpret the rock, everything began to click. The key is to put the rock in your hand and turn it around, feeling its surfaces and watching the light flit across it in ever-varying patterns. Seen in this way, the drawings transport an otherwise ordinary stone to another dimension, letting us read its inherent beauty and, at the same time, showing how thoroughly art can transform an object of nature. My guess is that the process of creating the art is slow and meditative. Her work says “look at me,” not with a scream but a whisper. That may also be why we take it in our hands, linger over it, and let it work its magic.

It’s difficult to imagine this sensation online, but maybe that’s the point; her art has a tactile quality and an intimacy that defy the mechanical nature of the internet. Her work wants to be picked up, looked at closely, and pondered. The details that follow, of no more than a square inch, show her working out subtle textures and light effects.
If, as I suspect, a Zen attitude helped create these works, we need a similar, deliberate slowness to read them.

You don’t just dash off a poem. To give it a lightness of touch and depth takes time and experience. I think that is what we find in Terry’s work. A special alchemy has transformed a stone, one of the dullest and heaviest of substances, into its opposite, a body at once weightless and evanescent.
Terry passed away on April 30th, two weeks after I received this beautiful gift from her, and since she didn’t, as far as I know, write about her own art, I have taken it upon myself to do so, hoping that I have not distorted her intent.
I wish she could have written this herself. Her friends will miss her greatly, but I feel her art will live on, expressing in its own graceful and contemplative way the gentle soul who created it.

-Bill Travis