Written by Joanne Barrett
Photography by Sait Akkirman
He’s an individual of charming appearance wearing his neatly chosen ‘retro’ attire extremely well. With the central city and K’Road at his doorstep, much of the last 20 years has been spent wandering through the streets of his neighbourhood, meeting people, checking out stores and languishing in numerous cafes and bars.
Tercel is rather partial to going to Magnation, buying the latest Artist Profile magazine or The Guardian and sitting in a bar, reading amidst the noise of fellow humans enjoying a few drinks and conversation. He says Dida's bar is ideal for this because of its friendly unpretentious vibe, but he can also be found at Jankens with a handle of Asahi and a tofu filled bun in hand. He has an ever-growing book collection which mostly has been found by trolling through local second hand bookshops - Dominion Books on Jervois Road or The Open Book on Ponsonby Road.
Dean Tercel was born and raised in New Zealand and like many European New Zealanders, has mixed ancestry; Austrian on his father’s side and Scottish on his mother's.
“I was raised in the suburb of Pakuranga, land of lawn mowers and budgies."
It was a great place to grow up in during the 1970s,” says Tercel, “There were loads of children to run around with on the streets as well as in the back yards filled with lemon, feijoa, apple and plum trees.
“In my teenage years though, I began to feel isolated and under-nourished culturally, kept sane only by nearby Fishers Gallery (now Te Tuhi) opposite the Pakuranga town centre and with trips to the Auckland Library and The Auckland City Art Gallery.”
One such excursion to Auckland City Art Gallery had a life-changing effect on this naive young artist. He found himself standing before a collection of lithographic prints and other works by Edward Munch and his contemporaries. Tercel recalls, “This collection left me enthralled and aching to respond with some form of print making. So with wood, black ink and cheap lino cutting tools (forgotten to return school property) at hand, I made my first wood block; I printed it on Zeta paper using hand pressure.”
His exploration of wood block printing eventually culminated into a series of prints in black offset printing ink with acrylic over-painting on Fabrianno paper. He approached Oedipus Rex (now OREXART) to gauge their interest in these prints; this meeting led to Tercel’s first solo exhibition and a 25 year collaborative relationship.
In his quest to find professional materials to work with, he fortuitously stumbled across Studio Art Supplies then located in Parnell, which resulted in lasting friendships, encouragement and eventually employment. During this time he turned his attention to oil painting. The intricacies of this medium he learned through trial and error and from knowledge gained at Studio Art Supplies. He learned about the materiality of painting, how to structure a painting from the ground up: the best mediums to use and how a painting should be safely structured. Discussions about painting with other artists and work colleagues also influenced his expansion as an artist.
“Discussing my painting as a ‘style’ is somewhat fixed and inflexible, so I prefer not to use the term style", says Tercel.
“Like many self taught painters, I’ve attempted to cultivate a personal and individual approach to the development my art practice.”
After several years of painting in oil he realised he had enough knowledge to know how little he actually knew. Unsure how to go forward he decided to go back. He investigated the history of painting from the prehistoric cave paintings in France through to modern art.
“I read numerous books, scrutinised their reproductions and made sketches and notes until eventually I narrowed this wealth of history down to one very important era, the Baroque period (approx. 1600ad -1750ad). I absorbed the techniques of such visionary artists as the Spanish painters Diego Velasquez and Jusepe de Ribera and the Dutch painter Rembrant van Rijn and I attempted to improve my understanding of the language of paint.”
From early childhood Tercel drew voraciously and so it was drawing he turned to for help to find a new direction for his practice. As fate would have it, he stepped into Parsons book-shop and on the new releases stand was a book charting the career of one of the greatest drawers of any period in history; the Spanish artist Antonio Lopez Gacia whose works showed that drawing could be painterly and psychological.
Rejuvenated, Tercel looked at developing new techniques and after two years of creating works on paper, it was time to apply this new found freedom and exploration to his painting practice. His next series of paintings were to have a strong connection to his life in Ponsonby as he set about photographing buildings in his neighbourhood.
“As I stroll through the streets of Ponsonby my mind wanders, I daydream about painting, my vision on automatic enables me to navigate obstacles, but I’m not consciously aware of the surroundings. This disconnect intrigues me,’ says Tercel.
“I see buildings as objects, not dwellings nor functional spaces but abstract forms, familiar yet vague waiting at the peripheries of our vision".
“My photographs are taken purposely out of focus to create a tension between what our eyes see and our mind knows, articulating both a physical and psychological distance. Re-interpreting these photographs as paintings I deliberately avoid photorealism by not meeting the expectation of the blurred photograph in paint, instead I choose to explore the paint itself.
“I introduced strong colour shifts and varied open brush marks to create an awkward reading between the medium and object depicted, hopefully bringing to the surface the true subject of the paintings, the act of 'looking', in the sense of our individual vision and how it affects our understanding of the world.”
Tercel’s latest photographs of buildings in the central city explore the abstract compositional potential of the buildings intersections, achieved through selective cropping to depersonalise the buildings into anonymous geometric forms. The surface of the resulting paintings and the language of paint itself is an important aspect of exposing the conceptual undercurrents, but equally important for the creation of intriguing, beautiful objects.
“To contemplate a society without culture, a life without the arts, I for one could not imagine an existence devoid of music, literature, cinema and the experience of standing silently before an artist’s painting.”
For Tercel the cultural importance of art dates back to the time before humans created complex societies, industrial cities and even agriculture, where early human tribes had artistic practices in the form of painting, sculpture, music and dance.
“Art records insights and feelings through forms that help us make sense of ourselves and the things in and of our world", says Tercel. Without art our experiences, our very lives, would lack connection and social identity. We would be stumbling about blindly void of substance."