In painting one of his abstract oils, Jerry Teters often starts with a completely white canvas, which can be “almost threatening,” he says. “Because it’s not going to come out of my head pre-planned; so much of it has to do with responding to the moment.” Using a large palette knife and a rag, Teters develops an underpainting first, establishing colors and shapes before layering over them with more paint — even using a squeegee at times — both obscuring and enhancing the imagery to create expressive works with texture and depth.
His process of being “open to the unexpected things that can happen on a canvas” is aligned with the improvisational spirit of a jazz musician, Teters says. And he should know; as a lifelong professional drummer and percussionist, he has managed to integrate his musical passions into a lifetime of making and teaching art.
An exhibit of Teters’ abstract oils along with a selection of his pencil drawings done from life will be on view through mid-December at Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz. An opening reception will be held on Tuesday, November 13 from 7-9 p.m. Refreshments will be offered and everyone is welcome.
Teters says he likes to see how people respond to his paintings. “So much of abstract work is letting it wash over you. It’s all subjective. It’s about a mood. So it’s interesting to hear what people think it looks like. They come up with a lot of different ways that they feel and view my work, and that’s good.”
Teters grew up in Long Branch, New Jersey. He studied drawing and painting in New York City at Pratt Institute, the Art Students League, the National Academy of Design and privately with illustrator Burt Silverman. “One of the things I found exciting in studying art in the city was that I wanted to be able to look differently at things, and I really found that with the teachers I had; Burt Silverman in particular.”
He met his wife of 30 years, Betty Marton, when the two were both art students. She is a freelance writer who specializes in writing personal histories of organizations and individuals through her business, In Your Own Words, and the couple have three children, all of whom are musicians. Joanna, 26, and Ben, 29, both graduated from Berklee College of Music and perform professionally, and Adam, 18, plays upright bass and guitar.
Teters and Marton moved to Gardiner in 1998, after which he went on to earn a master’s degree in painting from SUNY New Paltz. Living in this area has had an influence on his art, he says.
“The thing I especially like are the different moods I see that the mountains have from day to day; that can be really exciting to me. And the texture of the rock, the different colors of the rock, and seeing the contour of the mountains… that has a good effect on me, too, because I love to draw, and getting contour down is fun. If you like to draw, the mountains have a lot to give.”
Teters often works on commission. Several years ago, he and Marton began working as a team to market his paintings to the interior design industry, and there is a line of custom art rugs available that are based on his work. Teters credits his wife with being the one to accomplish the connections with the design world. “This is the fifth year we’ve been working with designers who need paintings for their clients, and Betty laid all the ground work for that. I would go to some of the fundraisers with her, but she’s the one who makes the cold calls. She met a lot of people in the different circles within the design world and got work doing that.”
When asked if the paintings he does for design clients are any different than the work he exhibits, Teters says he doesn’t change anything for the design industry. “I like to think that all my work has a thread going through it. In composition, in color, in how I build surface; texture especially. I like lots of paint.”
And while there have been times when a designer’s client requested that Teters paint something similar to what they’ve seen on his website, but in a different color palette, he doesn’t mind taking on the challenge. “I always say yes, because that brings me into an area of discovery, really; I might not have used those colors on my own.”
But giving a client something similar to what they’ve seen online “is not so easy,” Teters says. “I can’t duplicate things, which tells me I still fall into the category of an abstract expressionist mindset. I’m much better when I’m responding to what’s on the canvas at that moment.”
Among his artistic influences Teters includes masters of abstract expressionism such as Franz Kline, but says he will go back and look at their work just long enough to instill the spirit of it without becoming overly influenced. He’s been experimenting with creating abstract landscape and moving from primarily vertical imagery to horizontal.
As a musician, “I’m looking for my next band,” he says, subbing in the meantime as percussionist with local groups that include the Judith Tulloch Band. Teters does love jazz — “I could listen to Chick Corea until I turn blue” — but says, “R&B, rock, I love it all.”
And he still teaches art, currently to at-risk middle school students in the city. His paintings and prints are in many private collections and have been exhibited in group and one-person shows throughout the Hudson Valley and the Northeast. For more information, visit https://www.tetersart.com/.