Terry Tatum – From pathology to painting

Bowling Green’s Terry Tatum is an award-winning artist who remembers his love for visual arts dating back to his days in elementary school.

“We lived in Tampa for a few years because my dad was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base,” Terry explained. “The Tampa Tribune had a monthly newspaper contest for kids and my sister, Kathy, and I used to enter our pencil drawings. I would draw exciting football plays inspired by what I saw on our black and white television. I also remember drawing a horse standing in profile that only had two visible legs. I assumed that everyone would know that the other two legs were right behind the ones showing. I remember us winning one or two honorable mentions but never the big prize we were both shooting for – having your drawing displayed in the newspaper for all the world to see. Anyway, Kathy was always the real artist in the family. She is a fantastic oil painter who is so good she used to teach classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. She does mostly miniatures and some of her work looks like it was painted by Vermeer! I am proud to own some of these.”

While his sister kept a laser focus on art, Terry veered off into science and pursued a medical career. He graduated from Stanford University and got his medical degree at University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“I specialized in pathology, the most visual field in medicine,” Terry said. “We would spend every day looking for subtle patterns through a powerful microscope in order to distinguish a malignant process (i.e., cancer) from a benign one. It was tremendously rewarding because a precise diagnosis leads to the right treatment and a real chance for a cure.”

Terry was Chief of Pathology at The Medical Center at Bowling Green for nearly two decades before retiring from full-time practice. Since then, he has been enjoying advising medical lab start-ups and painting on the side.

“I do mostly acrylic paintings because I love how easy and versatile acrylic paints are to use,” Terry said. “If you choose your colors wisely and learn how to mix those colors to achieve any hue, you can create a very formidable art studio for less than a thousand dollars. You also don’t have the clean-up mess and toxic fume issues you can have with oils. I tend to be a little impatient by nature, so one of the key advantages for me in using acrylics is their quick-drying nature. This can be a problem when you’re first starting out, because you have to think ahead and work fast. But now I have the technique down so that I speed up the drying process with a hair-dryer. I also like to paint on paper rather than canvas. This is purely a personal preference, but it bypasses canvas stretching and tedious surface preparation and allows me to get started right away when I have an inspiration. However, the thing I like most about paper is the lack of a textured surface on which to paint. Texture is just one less thing I have to deal with when trying to create something realistic. This is important to me because I’m into blending realism with abstraction. It is also probably why most of us would choose to have our treasured photos on paper rather than on canvas. The key thing about acrylics on paper is to choose the right stock of paper. I prefer 110-pound matte paper because of its durability and lack of flimsiness. It is also more forgiving if you get it wet.”

“My process usually begins when I spot something interesting to me in nature. We are lucky to live in Kentucky because interesting things in nature are all around us! I usually begin by capturing the inspiration in a photograph taken on my iPhone, which I carry with me at all times. This allows me to bring the inspiration into the studio so that I can begin planning the adjacent painting. I first decide what I like about the photograph that I want to carry over to the painting. This allows for very precise color mixing. Then I choose something about the photograph that I want to make less real and more abstract in the actual painting. In my painting Hopper’s Country Store, for instance, I wanted to make a Da Vinci-like background landscape and top it off with an electric blue sky. So, in that particular case, the objects in the foreground are fairly realistic all the way to the dust in the window in the middle ground. Then it gets progressively more abstract the deeper into the painting you go. In Point at Barren River Lake, the abstractions are more subtle and predominantly limited to banding the sky like the water. Otherwise, it’s a photoreal painting. River Bend is somewhat in between. The upper half is nearly photoreal and the lower half is impressionistic. To keep versatile, I try to use a different style in every painting. I love playing with this theme of where does the real become unreal?”

Terry keeps his originals and only sells limited edition prints of his work through his website at www.terrytatum.com. In less than a year, he has won awards at the Scottsville Summer’s End exhibition and the U.S. Bank exhibition in Bowling Green. This year’s Summer’s End show featured his River Bend on the cover of their brochure.