August is a very artsy month. With White Linen Night and Dirty Linen Night within a week of each other drawing thousands of art lovers to galleries along Julia and Royal Streets, August is a good time to appreciate the great local art community within New Orleans. Local art and artists are everywhere, from the vendors around Jackson Square, to galleries and art markets, to colorful artwork decorating the walls of local shops and restaurants. And many local artists have managed to make a name for themselves with work that is recognizable and sought after all around New Orleans and beyond—like the leaning houses of James Michalopoulos, the bright, vibrant signs of Simon Hardeveld, or the blue dogs of George Rodrigue. With such an unusual culture and a strong pool of talent—from music to visual art—New Orleans is a great town to be an artist. The city draws in the creative, the colorful, and the quirky. And, on a similar note, so many artists use New Orleans as inspiration and subject matter for their work.
One such artist is Terrance Osborne. Whether or not you recognize him by name, you've certainly seen his artwork: his post-Katrina paintings of colorful houses dancing in the flood waters, houses stacked four-high or stuck in trees, and houses floating in boats in the flooded streets. You've doubtless seen his Jazz Fest posters; he's done four of them: the famous "Rebirth" tuba (2007), Uncle Lionel playing the drum (2010), the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (2014), and the Jazz Fest best-selling poster, Trombone Shorty playing trombone on the front porch of a shotgun house (2012).
His style is unmistakable, with his New Orleans themes and his characteristic use of intense, radiant color. He has been influenced by the work of Van Gogh and Michalopolous, and it shows. "Every painting is like an experiment in color for me," Osborne explains. "I'm a color fanatic. It's kind of like reality meets a toy box. You can play in it, and that's what I want you to do."
Osborne is a native New Orleanian, and it's very clear from looking at his paintings that New Orleans is his muse. "My art is so New Orleans," Osborne adds. "If you got dropped into my gallery by helicopter and you'd never been to New Orleans, and this was the only place you visited, I would want you to understand what New Orleans is like without having ever left the gallery. That's kind of the point."
Growing up in an artistic family, Osborne has been painting since he was 16. He was mentored by fellow local artist Richard Thomas and studied at New Orleans's equivalent of the high school in Fame—the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). Osborne attended Xavier University, and after graduation, became an art teacher for young children. Eventually, he got his big break—thanks in part to his Jazz Fest posters and Katrina-themed paintings, which helped to boost his career and launch him into the artistic spotlight.
Eventually, Osborne was successful enough to be able to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a real live, professional, earn-a-living-exclusively-from-his-artwork artist. "I didn't think that I could do it. I thought I'd be doing art only when I was 60 and retired or something." But through hard work, the support of his wife, Stephanie, and plenty of talent, he was soon able to do his art not just as a hobby on days off from his "real job," but as a fulltime artist whose artwork was his fulltime job.
He even recently opened his own gallery on Magazine Street, which aims to appeal to all the senses—from the art on the walls, to the smell of lavender in the air and the soft plush rug underfoot. You can even take a meditation class there with his wife.
Osborne is very happy to be doing what he loves to do. "When I used to punch the clock, I'd wake up on Monday mornings and just dread going to work," he says. "But now, when I wake up, I run to work. I run to my artwork or I run to the gallery. I can't wait to do it. And I think it should feel like that. If it doesn't feel like that, then you're doing the wrong thing."
These days, Osborne's artwork is very much in demand, and it's not just locals who appreciate him. He's been commissioned to do pieces for Nike, Heineken, and Hilton, just to name a few, not to mention personal commissions for art enthusiasts and collectors everywhere. And of course, there's his famous Barq's Root Beer campaign during the past two Mardi Gras seasons. You couldn't miss his specially commissioned "Mardi Barq's" pieces, created two years in a row and plastered across souvenir cups, billboards, and the backs of pedicabs all over town. You might even have caught him at a Walmart or Winn Dixie, signing free posters of the Barq's print for anyone willing to wait in the very long lines to get one. (Rumor has it that he's already working on a new Barq's masterpiece for Mardi Gras 2018.)
Osborne has done wine labels, TV commercials, and fundraising events. His art has appeared everywhere from a Domino's Pizza box to a USA Today cover page. And his internet sales ship all over the world. His future plans include branching out into making jewelry, furniture, and perhaps even clothing.
Yet no matter how famous Osborne gets, he still remains highly approachable and down-to-earth. He never lets the success go to his head. He regularly makes personal appearances at Jazz Fest and at various events, and is usually on-hand at the gallery for a question or a chat. Though his originals might sell for up to $65,000, he's not above giving away those signed Barq's posters for free. He'll even put your name on it. "If you're a jerk before success, then you're a jerk after success," Osborne observes. "But I love people, so it doesn't matter what I'm doing or where I get in my career, I would treat people the same way."
Making a go of it in a creative field is never easy. So besides his mad art skills, what does Osborne feel has been the secret to his success? "I think every successful person has to have someone who has their best interest at heart," he says. "And my wife is that person. She does an excellent job of being supportive." His wife helps with the business side of things, leaving him more time to focus on his art. But Osborne, who paints every chance he gets, also advocates dedication and perseverance. "I think that the thread that runs through all successful people is that they find one thing and they keep doing it, and they do it all the time."
Above all, Osborne's art is just extremely nice to look at. With its whimsical designs, vivid colors, and innovative subject matter, his paintings have such a positive energy. And that's what Osborne is going for in his work. "I want to convey a feeling of happiness. I want people to look at my stuff and just feel good. That's the most important thing to me."
Check out Terrance Osborne's work at his gallery at 3029 Magazine St. or at terranceosborne.com