Neverlands channels pain and Peter Pan
“I want people to get lost in the lines and use their imagination when they look at my work,” local artist and Carnegie Mellon alumnus Terry Boyd (CFA ‘09, MAM ‘13) said of his latest collection Neverlands. Boyd completed his undergraduate degree at the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon in 2009, and followed up with a Master’s of Arts Management from the Heinz College in 2013.
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust describes Neverlands — currently on display at the 709 Penn Gallery until Feb. 23 — as “an idiosyncratic and muted interpretation of life and death, originally depicted by the skies, seas, grounds, and characters described in J. M. Barrie’s stories. A question of one’s own permanence and place in a single line.”
Each piece in the display is made up of a series of finely drawn lines with no distinct pattern. Boyd said he loosely based the pieces on clouds and seascapes, but appreciation of the work relies on the human tendency to find patterns. He described the experience as akin to looking at clouds and finding shapes in them.
Neverlands marks Boyd’s return to art after a three-year break. The artist said he stopped making art after his father passed away. He said the hiatus was his way of escaping the realization that his father was gone, much like Peter Pan avoided the reality of aging and maturing. After doing some research into Peter Pan Syndrome, a tendency to resist growing up, Boyd felt a connection with the J.M. Barrie character. “Peter Pan was so simple-minded. He had no sense of reality,” Boyd said. “Any time something serious happened, he played a game instead of facing it.”
Boyd used the character to encapsulate a dark sense of avoidance in his work. The artist channeled grief from his father’s death to create the pieces in the display. However, after the three-year recess, he struggled with finding a place to start. “I kind of got lost a little bit, so I did the simplest thing possible — I filled the page from left to right. I was thinking of my father with every line, and quantifying my grief with every line stroke,” said Boyd. He explained that the empty spaces in the first three pieces (“and the echoes seemed to cry savagely,” “there is no path through water to the happy hunting ground,” and “the 2 minutes before you go to sleep”) are meant to resemble coffins. Boyd said the experience of creating each piece was meditative. “I was organizing myself and teaching myself patience,” he said.
While the pieces in the display represent a very specific meaning and healing process for Boyd, he encourages viewers to approach the work with open minds. “_Neverlands_ is more about getting lost in the lines — not about Peter. It should be abstract with no right or wrong interpretation,” he said. “I want people to say, ‘I can look at this for 15 minutes every day because I see something new every time.’ I was also creating landscapes that help viewers revisit the innocence of childhood.”
Boyd channeled his previous training and experience in art throughout the making of each piece. His experience as a fiber artist working with controlled sewing lines shows in these pieces; some viewers mentioned to Boyd that, from afar, they thought the pieces were made using thread. Boyd said that was originally his intention, and he first attempted the pieces using thread, but it was too thick to work with. Instead, he used a very fine-tipped pen for each piece and mimicked a sewing machine, starting at the top left-hand corner and moving from left to right down the page.
“Everything is sort of a very large ripple of the first line,” Boyd said. “Where the first line ends is the beginning of the next section.”Just as Boyd used these pieces to revisit the innocence of childhood, he used the artistic technique of downward strokes and hatch lines that he learned at a young age and has been using all his life. Each piece is made up of many of these very fine lines. Boyd said, “I can only handle working on these for about two to three hours at a time.”
Speaking of his time at Carnegie Mellon, Boyd said, “My heart has always been in the work. CMU has made me the person I am today.”
Neverlands is one of several displays and performances that will be featured in the Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District this Friday from 5:30–9 p.m. Admittance to the 709 Penn Gallery is free to the public.
For more information on the event or on the Neverlands display, visit www.trustarts.culturaldistrict.org.