Terra Lyn Anderson
Terra Lyn Anderson is deeply moved by the human form, of that we can be sure. The figures inhabiting Terra’s paintings celebrate specific unmistakable energy: curving, organic, visceral and sensuous. In their personal life, Terra embraces the same kind of energy, both in the partners they look for and the self they choose to present, striking a balance to what they view as a culture dominated by maleness and the male gaze. The specificity of this point of view is notable because who Terra “is” otherwise is a complex dance of identities in constant flow. They are an artist, an activist, a therapist and a pleasure-seeker. They identify as non-binary, which is to say they choose not to limit themself with any specific gender identity. They exude a sensual vitality but by and large defy handy labels. A conversation with Terra can easily turn into a master class on modern gender fluidity and identity theory.
A newcomer to the Portland area, Terra grew up in Colorado. They’ve been painting most of their life, giving hardly a thought to displaying their work in a public manner. For Terra, the exercise of painting was and still is an almost meditative practice. “I really love … taking time with the forms — it feels like an intimate practice to me, y’know? My nose is [next to] the canvas … I’m moving inch by inch by inch over the body… it feels very erotic to me, like an erotic practice.” What’s more, because Terra’s process can unfold over the course of several weeks per piece, a single painting can serve as a record of their journey. “Who I am in that timeframe changes drastically, and therefore my art changes.”
To begin a typical painting, Terra starts with little more than a particular color in mind, with which they then saturate a canvas “until I’m so sick of [it]!” From there the figures suggest themselves to Terra’s imagination, and then they refer to a collection of cherished reference images in order to execute the detailed, almost draftsmanly linework. “I have tried so many times to be a little more abstract — it just doesn’t come out that way!” Terra laughs. “I’ve spent a lot of time with photographers who do body-form photography and I’ve got a lot of pictures from that world … some of [myself] and some of other people.” Working from a live model can also be an option for smaller works, but “normally the bigger pieces are 40-50 hours” to complete, so working from photography offers the best approach. “I would always love to be painting more!”
Only when they ran out of room and realized their artwork was languishing in the garage gathering dust did the notion arise of putting it on display for the world to share. Terra finds it interesting to note that much of their work was created during a time before they began to question the labels they’d been socialized to. “I have a weird relationship happening with my art right now regarding gender. I painted a lot of my artwork before I came out as genderqueer. It’s like a dual relationship: my art resembles both a previous version of myself, and the arousal I feel for women. I love sexuality; it lights up my body. It is interesting how my identity has changed my relationship to my own art.” Presenting their art in public, in these pages and in venues throughout the community, gives Terra the chance to continue to revisit that living history.
Exhibiting their work at Privata this past spring, Terra faced an interesting dilemma. By exposing this extremely intimate aspect of their individuality, Terra was putting their self out there to be seen in a very public fashion in a sexually charged environment. “I’ve always got this push-pull, … because I have these other roles that are pretty delicate … I’m more effective when people know less about me, as a therapist … So a big part of my practice is sex-therapy, and I’ve gone in that direction because I refuse to hide this huge part of myself.” Terra continues, “I love talking about eroticism! … I feel like this particular topic needs a lot more visibility in our culture … I don’t want to hide my erotic endeavors … so I’ve gone into a field where I can be a little more open about what I do, about my artwork, about my sexual orientation and my gender identity, and still maintain effectiveness.”
In the footsteps of the cultural progress which has taken place in the decades since Stonewall, Terra believes in working to make the world safer for non-binary, trans and gender-fluid individuals. “I was socialized female, and … I threw out that story because I felt like it made me smaller than I am … I am sooo happy that I had the community and the education to step into that because my life is so much more full now that I have a more expansive sense of my gender identity.” Apart from the therapy practice, they also run a consultancy company to help businesses and organizations become more inclusive. They travel frequently and experience parts of the country where gender awareness is barely beginning. Even in the progressive bubble of Portland that Terra loves, they see room for improvement. “This dead horse still needs beating… There’s a couple spaces in this city that say they’re sex-positive and they’re queer spaces and still don’t have a bathroom for me to use that I feel great about!”
As we move more and more into an age defined by information and the means to manipulate it, the concept of what our identity is becomes increasingly blurry. That blurring can be threatening and even negating of who we are, but we can also harness those same cognitive tools to empower ourselves and reveal our vital inner truths. Artist-activists like Terra Lyn Anderson are devoted to helping us take control of who we are and protecting ourselves against being defined without our consent.
Terra’s work is beautiful, but in an effort to keep graphic imagery to a minimum in this forum, you will have to visit the magazine layout in order to see it. Click here to view the article in its original layout.