Birmingham resident Terry Matlen has been able to channel her diverse studies and distinct life experiences in different ways, as a clinical social worker, artist and author. With a degree in art education from Wayne State University, where she also studied fine arts painting, she later earned her MSW and became a psychotherapist, specializing in women with ADHD.
Matlen would continue to paint and create other art along the way.
Her creative efforts picked up steam when she was a teen. “I colored a lot as a child,” said Matlen. “I loved color, but I didn’t fall in love with making art until high school, when I had a very gifted art teacher. I learned how to see shape, color, texture, lighting and composition. She also gave me courage because she believed in me.”
Now Matlen has her first solo exhibition called “RAW” at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC) that runs through June 1st. She also does commission work and participates in group shows and competitions like the Michigan Fine Arts Competition. Her work can be found on her website: terrymatlenart.com.
In addition to painting, Matlen, who works from a home studio, has made funky mosaic pieces from the vintage figurines she has been collecting for years. She discovers these unique finds on eBay and at antiques shops.
“I would attach them onto odd objects like antique shoe molds,” she said. “They were pretty weird things, like teeny animals. The funkier, the better.”
Now these unique pieces inspire her autobiographical paintings. “That opens the door to my imagination,” said Matlen.
Though some themes that appear in her paintings can be fun, between her career as a psychotherapist and her own childhood history, anxiety and depression can also make their way into her creations.
“I had a rough time growing up, so I draw from a lot of richness in my personal experience and from working with people who have their own challenges,” she said.
Inspiration also comes from fairytales, which find their way into her work, as well as social injustices that speak to her.
Her solo show at the BBAC includes pieces that feature family members and memories from her youth. “One of my brothers was a cub scout and I had to take ballet. I was not a girly girl. I was a tomboy,” she recalled. “That background draws from my early experience. We lost our father as young children, so there is fantasy and dreams that are all combined. It’s kind of a mishmash.”
While most of her oil paintings are smaller in size, Matlen was asked to do one large piece for the BBAC show.
“I went from eight inches to four feet,” she said. The titles of the paintings can be as compelling as their color and content, like the larger painting called: “Sally Proves Darwin’s Theory at the Dodger’s Game.”
Matlen was first introduced to small canvasses in New York City where she lived for a short time. “There was a call for artists to create small works,” she said. “I normally do 8 inches x 8 inches, or 8 x 10, but I think they were even smaller in that show.”
For her, the tiny size has a big advantage. “It’s really important for me to engage the viewer to bring in their own experience,” said Matlen. “When you make a painting small, it forces you to get closer.”
Story: Jeanine Matlow
Photo: Laurie Tennent