In 2009, Houston artist Terrell James was invited to exhibit her work at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina. To prepare for the show, James traveled to Wilmington and met up with curator Doug Sprunt, who gave her a tour of the area’s maritime and longleaf pine forests along the Cape Fear River. James became fascinated by the maritime forest, where trees thrive even in heavy salt spray and ocean backwash—unlike the thousands of trees that died in Galveston in 2009 after Hurricane Ike. 

Returning to Houston, James began work on the pair of narrow, 17-foot-high canvases, entitled Maritime Forest, that would be displayed at the Cameron Art Museum, and that are now on exhibition at the Hiram Butler Gallery. Although James has created large-scale works before, she says that visitors have been surprised by the size of the canvases. “When people walked in at the opening, they looked up and said ‘Wow!’” Terrell says. “I think a lot of people haven’t seen work this large from me.”

Terrell James: Maritime Forest
Thru June 29 
Tues–Sat 10–5
Hiram Butler Gallery
4520 Blossom St

The two monumental canvases hang from the gallery’s ceiling, which is just high enough to accommodate them. Painted in a muted palette of greens and browns, and featuring distinct images of branches, roots, and leaves, the canvases are meant to evoke  “the feeling of walking into a forest.” In an attempt to move beyond the all-over style of her earlier abstract paintings, James has been trying for years to open up her canvases—to let them breathe, as it were. She says that Maritime Forest was one of her first successful essays in this new painterly idiom. 

“I’m trying to let the work be more open, and less filled-in with paint,” James says. “I think this was one of the first pieces that succeeded in doing that.” 

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