Written by Joanne Barrett
This significant Maori proverb encapsulates the spirit embedded in the works of Grey Lynn portrait artist Terry Fergusson. Through his creative practice Fergusson connects to people in a deeper sense; his works pay respect to his tipuna (ancestors) and they capture many aspects of human emotion in a raw and unrehearsed manner. They are successful in that they remind the viewer of what it is to be human.
The youngest of six, Terry Fergusson was born in Tokoroa, Aotearoa where his dad worked as a bushman. Although Tokoroa was his birthplace, the Fergusson name has ties that whakapapa (lineage) directly to Nga Puhi in the Whirinaki Valley located in the heart of South Hokianga. This is where Fergusson’s tipuna now rest; it’s this deep set connection that Fergusson says is at the heart of what he does creatively.
We see this connection deeply embodied in the portrait of his Papa (Fergusson’s great grandfather) and the portrait of Papa’s mother (Fergusson’s great great grandmother) Elizabeth Leaf of Hokianga. It is these faces of the past that are a living link to Fergusson’s tipuna, of their interesting lives and all they stood for. “After all,’ says Fergusson, “without them I wouldn't exist. Kia mau ki to Maoritanga!” (Hold fast to your culture!)
"I believe portraiture captures emotion perfectly and I love to direct it in such a way that people feel that emotion leap off the canvas at them!”
Fergusson always pursues themes that evoke raw emotion. “My early works were very dark and moody,” he says, “however over time I have lent toward using more colour to show stronger even happier human responses; a good mixture of both really.
Just how did Fergusson get started on this creative journey? The real motivation came from visually capturing members of his family, living or deceased, and reproducing these images through mixed media, using photography and paint. He always starts with a photographic base and he will either use an existing older image or he will take his own photographs. He then manipulates the image to the look and feel he wants and then on canvas he paints it out. Using this mix of mediums allows him creative licence without losing the spiritual essence of the subject.
“Right from my very first pieces I sought feedback from friends and family,” he explains, “and their comments encouraged me to push forward, to experiment and further develop my practice. I realised that while working on these early pieces I had found a style and creative technique that was uniquely mine. The results are lifelike and fascinating and each piece I complete excites me; it’s what keeps me moving forward to create the next!”
Pop Art has always fascinated me, so I guess one could say that I'm inspired by the works of Andy Warhol and those of Freda Kahlo. I simply love the way Kahlo used self portraits to reveal her emotion, pain and happiness. I'd like to think I'm a bit of a mixture of both of these exciting artists.”
Fergusson has had his fair share of memorable responses to his works. He recalls his first exhibition opening. “It was mind-blowing, not only was the gallery completely full but the positive responses to the works hanging on the walls and of course the sales that followed… well I can only describe the experience as surreal.
Earlier this year Fergusson won People's Choice Award at The Adam Portrait Awards held at the National Portrait Gallery in Wellington. It was the beautifully rendered and touching portrait of his parents titled ‘Still Mine’ that afforded him this award. Now Fergusson is working on a new body of works, again he is using his own photographic imagery as well as reproducing some older images of lost generations from his family’s past. These latest works are poised to reveal yet a different set of emotions! This is exciting stuff for the artist and ultimately for the viewer.
With a long advertising and media career under his belt, Fergusson understands the power of advertising and how it builds brand awareness. This has greatly influenced the way he works his career as an exhibiting artist. “Advertising is about creating an image or painting a mind picture, one that transmits an emotive message to influence and shape a response,” says Fergusson, “so I guess through my work I have the knowledge and capacity to not only create art, but to also create the brand behind it ‘THE BUSHMANS SON.’
When it comes to setting long term goals, Fergusson has aspirations to have his brand so well known that he will be invited to exhibit internationally! In the meantime he continues to work from his Grey Lynn studio and soaks up creative stimulation from this lively and vibrant location.
“Ponsonby and Grey Lynn are filled with an amazing mix of people, it's different every day. The cafes, eateries and shopping attract all walks of life and I love to just sit and watch.
Fergusson believes art inspires people and it plays an important role at home, at work or wherever we are. “The fact that we can purchase pieces and take them home to hang on our walls is fantastic as these chosen pieces become part of who we are, as well as an investment. What is even more exciting is that the art market is always changing, much as fashion does and this is what gives it life and diversity... thank goodness otherwise we'd be surrounded by a lot of old masters and tired looking landscapes.”
“I see my role as an artist as definitely having a positive influence within a community. A local artist can reflect life within that community and solidify and capture its existence as a snapshot through its buildings, its moods and its people.
So if you are out and about in Ponsonby or Grey Lynn having coffee or a glass of wine and you see this man Terry Fergusson, aka The Bushman’s Son, it would be fairly safe to say he is out there connecting with the people and their surrounds and drawing inspiration for future works of art.
As Fergusson puts it… “It is people that inspire me!”