Literature: Non-Fiction; Visual Arts: Painting
Teri Tompkins followed her love of art around the world. She has lived in Rome and, most recently, California. Now, she has returned home to St. Augustine.
As a teenager, Teri Tompkins traded her St. Augustine upbringing for the artistic richness of Rome.
“I was working as an au pair, which afforded me the ability to study from the wealth of masterworks on every street. I spent hours at the Vatican each weekend, studied Caravaggio in churches, and gawked over centuries of paintings.”
Tompkins studied illustration, painting, and art history in California and has returned to St. Augustine.
Her paintings — a collection of positive and hopeful works — are shown at Neff Jewelers. She also runs a Monday night figure session at the St. Augustine Art Association.
The Compass caught up with the multifaceted artist to chat about returning to her roots, painting Northeast Florida, and portrait work.
Compass: Why did you move back to St. Augustine in 2005 after living in California for almost 25 years?
Teri Tompkins: I have always loved my hometown, and I’ve always appreciated how special it is — even when my hunger for learning and adventure took me to other places. The water and coastline on the West Coast is quite interesting to paint, but here, it is far more fun to be in the water. I also love that I can ride my bike just about anywhere.
Compass: What are some of your favorite places to paint in Northeast Florida?
T.T.: First of all, my very favorite places to paint are top secret — especially the places where I am not supposed to be painting. Anastasia State Park is pretty fantastic early in the morning. Up and down the Intracoastal Waterway, there are so many beautiful spots that require some exploration to find. And, of course, the way the light hits the old architecture in town at different times of day is extraordinary.
Compass: Tell us about the women you paint in pieces like “Guardian of the Honey Bees” and “Wildflower Renaissance.”
T.T.: The angelic figures in my environmental “Guardian” paintings are not portraits, but rather metaphors for the guardian or protector in each of us. I take the protection of our environment and creatures very seriously, and painting the world as healthy and cherished is a kind of visual prayer. I am lucky enough to have some very beautiful friends and family members who regularly get roped into modeling for me. My niece Kelsey posed for “Guardian of the Honey Bees,” my granddaughter Jesse posed underwater for the ocean Guardians, and my daughter, Rain, posed for “Florida Native Butterflies.” Models typically pose live, then I take reference photos to see me through the many layers of paint required to complete the work.
Compass: We were looking at the “Portraits” page on your website. Are those all commissioned works?
T.T.: My first love may be portrait painting, and I have been accepting portrait commissions for years. When teaching portrait classes, I sometimes ask a friend to pose in exchange for the study when we are done. Between commissions, I beg family members to model.
Compass: How is Plein Air painting different from painting from a photo or memory?
T.T.: There simply is no substitute for painting from life. Whether painting a human, a bowl of fruit, or an outdoor scene, you perceive things that a photograph just cannot tell you. As handy as a reference photo can be, they do not tell the whole truth — especially digital photos that translate information through a little computer. Photos are great for completing work when the subject cannot be present, or the cloud formation has moved on. In nature, the artist can feel, see, hear, smell and sense things, and those influences appear on the canvas like magic.