When artist Terry Thirion moved to Charlotte in 1996, she discovered subject matter footsteps from her home. Freedom Park, in central Charlotte, provides her with solace, respite, and artistic inspiration.
In the tradition of the Impressionists, Thirion brings her materials to the park, where she sketches what she sees. Her latest show, "Freedom Park - An Urban Treasure," features more than 20 pastels, photographs, and oil paintings that capture "little, precious corners of the park," and that celebrate "places of serenity, and quiet introspection," Thirion says.
Born and raised in Leuven, Belgium, Thirion attended the Parmentier School of Design in Brussels and the Arts Academie in Leuven. She studied clothing design and construction, which involved much sketch work. She began painting with oils in 1969 when she moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., where she took classes at the YWCA because they had a day care center. She had her first professional show in Broward County, Fla.
Since Thirion moved to Charlotte, she and her husband, Robert FitzPatrick, have been champions of Freedom Park on issues ranging from noise control to preserving its Yoshino cherry trees, which line the shores of Little Sugar Creek. These trees, with knotted trunks and abundant blossoms, are featured in much of her work. "They are old-looking, and they have a lot of character, and a lot of gnarliness," Thirion says. "You see people taking pictures of the roots and the bark and the character of these trees."
Thirion first experienced the park as she walked her dog several times a day. "I got to see all the lights of the day," she said. "Most people come on a beautiful sunny day, but they don't see the park at 11 o'clock at night. I began to see the park in more detail; I saw more variations."
Sometimes she brings an easel, other times a pad of drawing paper. Sometimes she takes photographs and references them as she paints in her studio.
The featured works are a departure from the abstracts for which Thirion is known. "When I work on abstracts it is pretty wild, and it is a whole different person than me sitting under a cherry tree observing, seeing the negative and positive spaces," she says.
Thirion paints the park in all seasons, but particularly enjoys the drama of the beginning bursts of color in spring and the decaying aromas of foliage in fall. When choosing a spot to sketch, she doesn't seek a perfect image but "where I feel good sitting." She brings her sketch pad on the busy days of Festival in the Park in the fall and on quiet weekday afternoons.
Her dreams for the park are that it remain a commons where people can enjoy Charlotte's natural beauty. She says, "There are no class issues; there aren't any territorial issues; people seem to get along in the park. A lot of people have forgotten that there is such a thing as common places."
Thirion hopes when people hang her art on their walls, they will find solace from viewing a piece of the outdoors at home. "People cannot always be in nature. Art is a way to remind yourself that there are beautiful places in Charlotte, and art can bring these places into your house."
The show opens as the Yoshino cherry trees are in bloom, the bluebird and owl houses are being claimed by new residents, and the people of Charlotte flock to the park on sunny afternoons.