Eduardo Terranova decided to learn English for one reason. “I wanted to be able to read Edgar Allan Poe in English. I had read it in Spanish, but I knew it didn’t translate the same.” A native of Colombia, Terranova immigrated to New York City when he was 19, already fluent in three languages and an accomplished ballet dancer. Now Terranova is known for a different translation of art. As a painter and architect, Eduardo Terranova, 38, creates pieces rich with a sense of history and longing. The artist says his love of language, architecture and painting are all interconnected. “Every verb has an article and everything is composed in language, and in architecture it’s the same, but within that function there is poetry. Within a phrase, language and syntax inform art and architecture at the same time. For me it’s just a fusion of these three things.”
For Terranova, painting is like “dancing with your heart in your hands around the universe.” He employs some nontraditional “paints” such as coffee and red wine in his pieces and sometimes slashes and sews the canvas back together again. The work takes on a more multi-media, physical form. “In terms of the process, using coffee and wine as pigments or something that seems like ink, the substance is more powerful. I remember as a child when coffee would spill and stain. You see the mark of the glass and the patterns it created. It started having a different meaning for me. I wanted to transform the canvas instead of just painting the surface; it became more of a construction than painting as a typical painter. It has a spatial transformation. I sometimes stretch the canvas, cut it, remove the stretching bars, sew it, and restretch it. When I sew it back together it’s never the same. It’s never what you expect.
Terranova begins every day as the sun rises and goes for a morning swim. “Coming back to my studio, I’m trying to catch something that’s inspirational. Or maybe just a crack in the sidewalk—it’s about being observant on the way. The moment you wake up you should start seeing different things. It’s a continuous way of looking at things. I notice the corners of sidewalks, the textures of the pavement and colors of a rusted sign. The mind takes those images and internalizes them into architecture or art . . . Every day is dynamic; it is never the same. Each day has a fluidity; it never bores me.”
As a youth in Colombia, Terranova made his own playthings, sewing and stitching together kites and building toys. His parents encouraged him in his artistic pursuits. “It’s like if you really like that and you love it and you work at it, you can do it. There was never any criticism.” His mother now lives in New Jersey, and the two relate often about art and dreams. His father and the rest of his family remain in Colombia. Terranova’s work has been shown throughout the United States, Italy, Spain, Austria, Sweden, and Argentina but has yet to be shown in his native land. “Sometimes we have to really get away from our own center to really get noticed.”
Although Terranova loves New York City and says he can’t imagine living anywhere else, Colombia still deeply informs his work. One of Terranova’s current projects is Disappeared and Vanished, based on the socio-political themes of the “disappeared” in his native country of Colombia where “tens of thousands of people have been kidnapped, tortured, killed, or simply vanished.” But Disappeared and Vanished also reaches out to other world communities, with the aim of forming a collective memory. Along with the Colombian coffee that Terranova employs in his work, he sometimes also uses gold “as a contrast with these humble materials—taking something so mundane and making something ordinary very extraordinary. Gold is [also] a Colombian tradition, the gold leaf. You could say I’m a messenger for that tradition and culture, to continue it. The power of gold and the humbleness of thread, bringing this all together is very meaningful for me.”
Another current project is Memory and Dreams. Terranova says, “I dream a lot, and dreams are very powerful. They are parallels to what’s going on in our lives and our universe, and I wanted to transform that into my paintings. It’s very important for me and to keep me alive to go into my subconscious to dream and to make others dream.” In Homo Faber, which means, “man who creates his own destiny,” Terranova collected tree branches from Central Park to integrate into the work. He then literally walked on the canvas, first with both full feet, and with each step placing less of his foot until just the toes are seen, creating a vision of taking flight. “It makes you feel like flying, and the freedom is in the transformation.”
Terranova’s work, and even the way he speaks, is a sensual experience. “I think this comes back to the Egyptians, where high reliefs are not actually three-dimensional, but the surface plays with shadows. There’s this line between three- and two-dimensional that I play with. [At my shows] people get so close, and, while they don’t touch it, they feel the threads, and they smell the material, which is wonderful when the paintings are fresh. They elicit an aroma. People have actually said ‘that smells like coffee!’”
Terranova said Nashville and the Nashville art community hold a special place among his travels. “I curated my own show in Nashville. It was really wonderful because people were so engaged at the night of the opening. The whole night I had people coming and asking me questions. It’s different from New York City where people come, say ‘oh it’s great,’ and leave. In Nashville, people really wanted to know the stories and ‘tell me about the title.’ You can only have that feeling when you’re physically in the gallery with people.”
What’s in store for the future works of Terranova? Burial. Literally. “Right now I cure and protect the coffee and wine with all organic varnishes. In the future I want to make [more paintings] without curing them and literally bury them and pull them up five years later. Sometimes the varnishes make the coffee behave differently. Sometimes I use resin, which protects but also reflects.”
Terranova hopes those who experience his work will remember not only his creations but also those who inspired them. “Together we seek signs from those we thought to have ended in the junk pile of history. Together we find them at once, breathless and immortal. Through the medium of ghostly grids, I share with the viewer my private turmoil. The materials I employ evoke an elegant yet eloquent universal call of remembrance to the disappeared.”
Eduardo Terranova is represented by Tinney Contemporary gallery.
by Freya West | photography by Brad Jones