NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 22

n Terry Adkins Untitled, 1979 Pastel, wet color on paper EAR LY ART COLLECTI NG MA R So, your mother introduced you to the arts. How did your father influence your future? Looking back on that choice, I realize that it was a good one, and I’m so glad I listened to my father. Even though engineering wasn’t necessarily my shtick, I was smart enough to get through engineering school, and that afforded me the opportunity to eventually buy art. Brilliant advice on his part. While working toward my engineering degree in college, I was also doing music and singing, going to the museum, and reading philosophy. I just had an enormous curiosity. RMO Well, he was never one to say MAR It’s very interesting that you RMO I would say it was my parents’. When we went into St. Louis as a family, we would go to the museum. My dad loved the place. The last picture we ever took of him was in front of the museum about three or four months before he died. much. Often times, he just let us be. But if he felt we were heading down a destructive path, he would gently step in. For example, at one point I was thinking about changing my major from engineering to psychology. I told my father, and he thought about it for about a week. Finally he said, “Son, come downstairs and let’s talk.” embraced the humanities as fully as you did — not what you expect of engineers. RMO It’s not, I’m telling you. I belong to a fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, and at the time most of us were into engineering, not the arts. My frat brothers thought I was crazy. They gave me the nickname “Opera Ollie.” Opera Ollie! But I did have a roommate from Chicago, Gregory McClain, his nickname was “Steamroller,” and he really did embrace the arts. He played in the band, and he was a linebacker on the college football team, but he loved the humanities and the social sciences, too. MAR What was the first work of art you bought? How did that come about? And do you still have it? R MO Of course, I do. It’s a tie, in terms of what came first though. I bought a Terry Atkins piece followed close behind by a Herb Gentry work. There was a woman named Joan Allen, who had the Art Salon Arts Alliance. You and Gentry were involved, of course. She would have these auctions, and one of my dear friends, Cynthia Boyce, introduced me to her, and we went over to her home. A show had just come down, and Joan wanted to sell some of the pieces. I started looking, and those two stood out. I just loved them. But I might also step back for a moment and just say that even as a kid I wanted stuff on the wall. I would go shopping with my mother for furniture, and I’d say, “We’ve got to buy something for the walls. Let’s get this big thing and put it over the couch.” And she’d say, “Well, okay, yeah.” So when I went to college, one of the years I wasn’t staying in a fraternity house, my friends and I had an apartment right next to the campus, and we furnished it through donations from our respective homes. And after we put everything together I said, “Guys, we’ve got to put something on the wall.” So they said, “Well, no, it’s okay like that.” I said, “No, we need something for the walls. Let’s go to Woolworths.” We went to Woolworths and bought, I don’t know, six, seven cheap things to put on the wall, already framed. And later, when I came to New York, I couldn’t afford fine art, or I didn’t think I could, so I started buying posters — mostly abstract. I just had a need to put things on the walls. Even before coming to New York, when I was in Kansas City, I met an artist in our church choir who was in art school. I bought one of his paintings — a print actually, which I still have. No bare walls where I live! MAR Did you have any pieces of fine art in your family home? RMO Just what I could get from the furniture store. But my mother had figurines and framed reproductions of the Four Seasons. “Oh, we’ve got the four seasons,” she said when first putting them up. She also liked fancy wallpaper and antiquing some of our furniture. I would do that, too. I loved stripping furniture and creating something new. My mother liked going to thrift stores, finding things to give a different look to our home. And I still have that same tendency. In my apartment now, there are a couple of items that people were throwing away, a chair or a table, that I’ve rescued and had restored. MAR Who was the first artist you met in your neighborhood? RMO The first one I recall was a guy named Emanuel Cooper from whom I bought that first print. He was going to art school in Kansas City. I believe it was the Kansas City Art Institute. Nice guy. We stood next to each other in the Choir Stand. But, in terms of other people I can’t think … there were people in my high school — I always went to these enrichment courses in the summer — and some of the teachers were artists, as well. MA R Was the St. Louis Museum your discovery or your mother’s? That’s how he was. He said, “I don’t think this psychology thing is a good idea. I want you to think about staying with the engineering.” And, you know, I loved my father so much, and I valued what he had to say. I knew his opinion was very considered. It wasn’t something based on his ego. He was thinking about what was best for me. So I said, “Yes, Dad, I think I will go back to engineering, but I will do a double major in psychology and engineering.” As it happened I almost did get a double major, but ultimately I simply minored in psychology. So, the St. Louis Museum played a pivotal role in my understanding and enjoyment of art. Its collection is encyclopedic, and they have a lot of great Modern works, including a collection of the German artist, Max Beckman, donated by someone from the May family. It’s a well-thought out museum. I wasn’t particularly aware of that when I first started going. All I knew was the sense of peace and pleasure that came over me when I went. Sometimes I would go there and just relax…just be.