Late in his junior year at Cleveland's Euclid High School, Terry Joshua fell asleep in art class only to be awakened by his teacher, who told the youngster that she was going to fail him due to his year-long lack of effort. As this threat settled in, Joshua asked the teacher if he could have a blank canvas he found tucked away in the back of the classroom. She said yes, and the next day he returned with a completed painting of a woman.
“And when I posted a picture of it on Instagram, it blew up. And then the right people saw it and it started getting traction and people were reposting it, and it sort of launched my career accidentally,” Joshua said in mid-September at Lindsay Gallery in the Short North, where he’s spent most afternoons painting a series of large canvases since returning to Columbus early in August. “That summer, I went to New York for the first time, and then I made my first sale. And I haven’t looked back.”
It certainly helped that from the jump Joshua had a style that was uniquely his own, the skin of his figures painted in distinctive squares that mirror the way in which he sees the world. “I have horrible eyesight, so when I don’t have my contacts in, I see blotches of color that look like squares or rectangles,” said Joshua, 23, who took early inspiration from the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose trademark crowns inspired the crown of thorns worn by a number of the figures in Joshua's paintings. “And when I was painting, I didn’t have my contacts in, so I was painting exactly how I was seeing things. And it’s funny, because when I was in high school, it was a problem. But now it’s something where it’s enabled me to have a style I’m associated with.”
Joshua’s current body of work will be on display during a preview exhibition scheduled to take place at Lindsay Gallery from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24. Dominated by a series of self-portraits, the earliest of which was completed during the early peak of the coronavirus pandemic and captures a pronounced sense of isolation, the collection serves notice of a strong new voice hitting the art world. said he believed it was only a matter of time until a name gallerist in New York swooped in to sign the artist, describing Joshua as “the real deal,” and the Columbus Museum of Art has already acquired one of his pieces for its collection.
While most of the paintings on display in the Short North were completed in the last couple of years, there’s a melancholic thread that runs through the work that Joshua said has been present from his earliest childhood doodles. Generally, the paintings focus on a central figure – oftentimes the artist himself – who wears a weary, sorrowed countenance, appearing to this viewer as though they have the weight of the world set on their shoulders.
“I think that’s always been a thing for me. I remember being 11 or 12 and … my mom was looking through my [sketchbook] and she was like, ‘I love these pieces, but why is everyone so sad?’” said Joshua, who has always used art as a means to dissect his more unfortunate life experiences, describing the process of painting as a form of mental release akin to therapy. “So, if it’s a [self-portrait], it’s probably based upon the idea of confusion, frustration, anger, lament. Even the idea of battling oneself. Looking back, I think I’ve always been at war with myself, always asking, who’s Terry?”
This is true of the works that will be on display this weekend, a number of which are rooted in the teenage discord the artist said he experienced living with his mother, which led him to move in with a friend for nearly two years beginning at age 16.
“Our relationship was tainted. Some things I did, some things she did. … But I think the best way to learn is to go through adversity. … If you want to be exceptional, you have to go through the test and you have to survive,” said Joshua, who recently moved to Los Angeles but plans to remain in Columbus until he's expunged all of the ideas fueling this current creative outburst. “Are you familiar with the hero’s journey? You may gain something at the end, but you still have to deal with the effects of whatever you experienced to get to that point. … You might have some scars, and you have to tend to those scars sooner than later. I think that’s why I’m actively trying to handle those things now, in my early 20s, so I’m not cycling back to where it’s impacting me when I’m 30 or 40. I’ve seen that with too many of my elders, where they have childhood problems and other things they never handled, and it’s still bleeding. And that’s crazy. I never want to find myself in that situation.”