Watch the evolution of Terrance Osborne’s painting for the 2010 Congo Square Poster below.
[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157623725694369″]
Terrance Osborne works from dark to light. “I think of bringing sunlight into the image,” he says.
Osborne was commissioned to paint the 2010 Congo Square poster for Jazz Fest, a portrait of “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, bass drummer for the Treme Brass Band. His artistic process is one of gradual illumination. He starts by sketching the figure and then blacking it out. “Sometimes I’m showing someone my process and they’re horrified when I black out this nice sketch I’ve done. But that’s how I work.”
Starting with black gives Osborne plenty of room to lighten things up. Looking at the poster as it unfolds, you can see the new layers of sophistication that accompany each further illumination. The sky, which begins as a murky abstraction, gradually comes into focus and emerges in the purples and oranges of a sunset. “I’m illuminating what’s already there in my mind,” he says.
Osborne also produced the 2007 Congo Square Poster, a portrait of Rebirth Brass Band sousaphonist Philip Frazier. To date, it remains the series’ best-seller. “I’m hoping this one becomes the new best-seller. I’m just beating myself,” he laughs.
A heavy responsibility for accuracy accompanies the depiction of a well-known figure like Uncle Lionel. As it turns out, much of that accuracy hinges on his left hand. “Anybody who knows Uncle Lionel knows that he wears a watch on his hand,” says Osborne. “It’s always the left hand. He says he ‘always has time on his hands’.”
To complicate matters further, the musical implement that Uncle Lionel carries in that hand is of his own invention. “It’s the bottom of an umbrella that he cut off and a piece of wire that he found,” says Osborne. The hand went through several incarnations as Osborne worked to fit it into the space while maintaining a realistic pose.
Osborne also struggled with how to fill the empty space in the upper right. For him, the I-10 is authentic Treme, so he added a curved section of highway. “It was a perfect solution to the space around Uncle Lionel’s head,” he says.
For many, though, that section of highway has different connotations. Those who lived in Treme during the 1960s witnessed the Claiborne overpass cutting the community in half, destroying the neutral ground that had been a local gathering place. For them, it remains a symbol of that destruction. “I grew up in Treme. The bridge was there already,” says Osborne. “I never thought about it in the way that the generation before me thought about it. I just saw it as a natural part of Treme.”
Nonetheless, Jazz Fest asked him to remove it. Osborne sought a compromise. “I really wanted that curve,” he says. “Plus, it just reminded me of what Treme looked like. So I found a more digestible solution.” He spruced up the highway with lights and trusses, transforming it into the Crescent City Connection. Jazz Fest officials were mollified, and Osborne got to keep his vision more or less intact.