I sat down with Terry Joshua to have some real talk about his life growing up in Ohio, his art, and his feature on The Shade Room. I found Terry on Instagram when The Shade Room shared a piece of his artwork and tagged him on their "On Wednesday's We Paint" post. His artwork struck me as very socially conscious because of the way he expresses both his personal struggle and the black struggle. I was excited to sit down with him and pick his brain on how his life affects his art.
Question: So how was your day?
Terry's Response: My day was very well.
My Response: Are you still in high school? Are you a senior?
Terry's Response? I'm in the 11th grade.
My Response: You're in the 11th grade! Oh, so you don't graduate until next year.
Terry's Response: Exactly.
Question: Oh wow that's good. Okay, so you live in Ohio but were you born and raised in Ohio?
Answer: Yea. I was born in Cleveland and throughout the years I was moving back and forth in different areas of Cayohuga County that's where I live at, but for the most part yea Cleveland. I've been out of town like four times that's it.
Question: So how did growing up there affect who you are today and who you're becoming?
Answer: Oh man that's a good question. Well, when I was younger, we were in apartments for the majority of what I can remember... but my mom she was a hairstylist for a long time. So from conception up til I was like three years old I was good... when I turned four that's when we started moving to lower income areas and it was just happening how it happened. But I moved to Cleveland Heights which is basically like a suburb... I lived there from age six through nine. It was hard but, it all did mold me. By the time I was in my teenage years we were moving from hotel to hotel and then we just got stable when I turned 16. I guess the whole situation made me understand strength and being wise and just being able to withstand the pain of any situation.
My Response: So is it just you and your mom?
Terry's Response: It's me, my mom, and my little brother.
My Response: So your father isn't in your life?
Terry's Response: No. I haven't spoken to my father since I turned 17. I haven't spoken to him in like a year and some change.
My Response: So something happened to where y'all don't speak anymore?
Terry's Response: I don't know it's weird. Like I honestly don't know why he does what he does. I pray for the best for him you know. The last time we spoke, it was my birthday. and I was like "how you doing" and he was like "I'm doing good" and I was like "you know what day it is?" and he was like "it really don't matter, I gotta go ... my friend is in the hospital" and I was like "okay, it's my birthday" and he was like "don't be selfish I need to do something" and I was like "excuse me?"... so that was the last conversation we had.
My Response: Oh wow, yea some people you just gotta pray for... whether it's your parents or...
Terry's Response: You feel me? I don't live with my mom. I've been kicked out the house since I was 16.
My Response: (for clarity) You don't live with your mom?
Terry's Response: Nah, I live with my brother Neo.
My Response: That's the one who does your photography for you?
Terry's Response: Yea, I've been living with him for two years... It'll be two years in July.
My Response: (for clarity) You got kicked out of the house?
Terry's Response: Yea, when we moved back to Euclid... I lived in Euclid back and forth from age 10 to 15 and then we moved into the hotels for at least a year and a half... but when we moved back over here I was working at Chipotle, I had just got the job and I was helping my mom out with bills... but the way situations kinda unfolded I was starting to get prideful, and since I had money I was thinking I was the man. So I started butting heads... my mom was a single parent so she did what she had to do when the situation occurred. Nobody was the winner in the situation, we both did wrong but it just ended with me leaving out the house and I moved back in but it just came to me that I just needed to stay with the people I was with. But we're really good now.
My Response: Okay that's good. So before we get into talking about your art because obviously you know that's really why I contacted you... So before we get into that... You do poetry?
Terry's Response: Yea.
Question: When you were 14 you wrote "Bastard Child", I'm guessing that what you put as the caption on Instagram was the definition of a bastard? I have to look the definition up...
Terry's Response: A bastard is a child born out of wedlock and the parents are not married to each other.
Question Continued: Alright so initially I was going to ask "are you a bastard" but the answer is yes obviously... so since the answer is yes how did that affect you growing up? Because you know a lot of people don't think that not growing up with both parents affects you... me personally I grew up with both parents but I do have half-siblings... they're all by my dad so they never grew up with him in the house... so how did that affect you growing up without both parents?
Answer: Yea... you don't realize what happens at a younger age... when I was a kid it was cool. My mom that's my hero, that's my baby... I love her to death... so I never felt like I had anything that was missing... up until the point when I was in middle school. By the time you're in middle school, emotions are starting to fluctuate, you're starting to realize the person that you're becoming... your perception changes on everything. So during this time period, I'm trying to figure out how to be a man and I didn't have those tools at hand... like my mom, she was a woman... the way I was walking, I walked like a girl because I didn't know how to be a man. I just knew that I was a good person at heart. So by the time I was 14, I was frustrated, I was angry... I didn't realize how much it affected me up until the point where I was literally outwardly expressing the emotions that were inside of me. Now that I'm older... it's been able to help me now because you realize that having no father in your life... it makes you realize that if you were to have a child at this age ... whatever age you are, you have to be accountable for everything you do... and it makes you realize how important sex is because after you have sex, it's a lot more to it than just you laying with a woman ... it's a huge chain reaction after the fact... so things like that, that's how I think of it.
Question: So, when you wrote "Bastard Child, where were you emotionally?
Answer: (laughs) I remember the day. My mom... she writes books... my mom does everything... she does all types of stuff... but she was writing a book, and I was in the back of the apartment... I was in my room, and I was just thinking... I had the Bible near me, and I was just thinking about my life and all this other stuff. I was feeling really... you know... transparent in my emotions, I didn’t really know it was fluctuating... I just know I was in limbo... I was just feeling like I was just there... and I was looking at my mom, and I was like "Mom what you doing?" and she was like "writing something"... and it just came to me, like maybe I should write some poetry. And it was funny because prior to that, one of my teachers... he made me stand out in front of the whole school and represent this Langston Hughs poem... so it just came to me to write and when I was writing... it was a pouring out of emotions... like you can still see on the paper how the words... they were spelled incorrectly cause I was just trying so hard to write exactly how I was feeling at the moment... and it's just like... it's kinda throw up in a weird way... You feel me? It was just coming out so fast and abundantly and I did one rendition of the poem... like literally ... it's two versions... it's the one I first did that was made in 10 minutes and it's the one I re-did 5 minutes after the first one.
My Response: Oh wow... where you kinda got your thoughts together, got everything in order?
Terry's response: Yea... I moved some stuff around, to make sure the poem was flowing how it needed to be so it could be a full story.
Question: So you just mentioned faith... you said you had the Bible next to you. How important is faith to you?
Answer: It's really important... it's funny like it's a lot of stuff that's been happening as of late and if it wasn't for my faith in God I don't know where I would be. I'm not the most Christian boy I could be, it's a lot of things I could straighten up to become more. (I interjected and said we all can). You feel me? It's things I do wish I could do better with and I wanna do better... as for the way I feel about Christ and all those things... it's very important ... my mom is a minister. So it was kind of something that was embedded in me. My mom, she does a nonprofit right now... she's doing what she wants to do right now, she's a minister. We went from being homeless in 2015, and now my mom she made $90k last year and has people working for her now.
My Response: I mean... can't nobody tell me what God won't do.
Terry's Response: Yea! You feel me? Like people just don't know.
My Response: When you get done talking about your tarot cards, and your chakras, and Buddha this... at the end of the day God is all knowing and all powerful. He's the man period.
Question: Okay, so let's get into the art. When did you start drawing? Do you draw or do you paint or do you do both?
Answer: Uh, I'd never picked up an actual tool... an actual paintbrush up until this year... if it wasn't for me being 11th grade right now... my career track ... It’s an advanced class for art I do art three periods out of the day... If it wasn’t for me being in there I would’ve never picked up a paintbrush. I’ve never used that medium before except for when I was six.
My Response: Well you’re dope.
Terry’s Response: Yeah… Like it was weird though, it was God-given I promise you. I did it one time, I was in the second grade and I remember doing it and I hated it so I stayed away from it... but when I was a kid the earliest memory I had of drawing was when I was six. It was this boy his name was Darien and we were living in Kinsman, Kinsman is the ghetto in Cleveland... we were living there and he was my best friend, he was five and I was six and he used to draw very well and it dawned on me after he left because he moved out of state and we moved into different areas... but it dawned on me that if he could draw the way he could maybe I could try to do the same thing. And I just kept doing it I actually liked it, so…
My Response: You’re doing fantastic… You’re a definition of black excellence for sure. I saw some photos on your Instagram I want to say they were drawings... they were on like a sketchpad, so I think that they were drawings but you did them in like the eighth grade right... and they were very conscious.
Terry’s Response: Oh yeah, I didn’t have anything else to do, I didn’t have TV so... (chuckles a bit) it was me and the pencil…
Question: Wow so is all of your artwork socially conscious? Because it looks like it is.
Answer: Yeah it’s weird… It’s not like I’m forcing it, it just happens the way it does… Like when I was a kid I was just drawing to draw… I drew Dragon Ball Z, I used to stop the SpongeBob episodes and just draw the characters but now that I’ve gotten older it’s just elevated. Mentally I’m a thinker so I always question things. I buck at authority sometimes, like not purposely it’s just how I think.
My Response: You’re not alone.
Terry’s Response: You feel me? And is not purposely it’s just the way I was created… So because of me having this way to express myself verbally it just so happens that I was able to do it with drawing too but, it just happened this year... like I didn’t realize how socially aware I was up until this year… Because every piece that I did kept having some undertone that was a little bit bigger and different than what I was expecting it to.
My Response: From what I’ve seen there’s always a bigger picture of the artwork that I’ve seen thus far. It’s like you look at your pieces and it causes you to really think about it.
Terry’s Response: Thank you. I’m trying to make sure that I’m keeping it to where anybody can grasp the information… Like I want it to be a wow factor when you’re looking at it, I want people to pick up different things from what I’m drawing.
Question: Well you’re achieving that. So your piece… “Why Don’t You Love Me?” was inspired by your life and you said it was inspired by Joey bada$$... I haven’t heard that song before I have to pull it up and listen to it… Can you give me a recount of the labels you’ve been given in life and how those labels have affected your psyche?
Answer: Um... well... Bastard, nigger, ugly, mistake, gay… Um, what else can I think of… frustration, lover, hater, confused, manipulator, healer, controller, all those things. It just depends on the person and the thing is a lot of times in any conversation it’s always going to be subjective. When you think about all things… It’s always going to be something that counters your beliefs or even how you think of things with anything that comes your way. For instance to me I might find a girl and she’s the most beautiful thing in the world, but there may be other another person that just sees her as ugly. So you can relate that to how you express yourself…
Some people may think that that’s a beautiful thing and other people they might try to shoot you down anyway they can because you’re contradicting what people will find to be truth. So that’s why words they just have meaning… And the words that I put on there I didn’t want it to be just about me because I feel like these words they were pretty universal. Like “nigger”, I got called that two times in my lifetime, and I’m only 18 but that’s it. So I could imagine all the other people, in the past that were called these things. So I was trying to make sure that it wasn’t just about me but that it was about a huge scope of people.
My Response: I definitely think that with that piece a lot of people can relate to it especially in the day and time that we live in… You know we’re in the “Trump Era” as I like the call it… We have the KKK and the white supremacist proudly marching around protesting Confederate statues and monuments being taken down. They’re protesting confederate monuments that were cheaply mass produced just to spite us. Like it’s nothing to scroll through the comments section on a post on Facebook,Instagram, or Twitter and see people call us a “niggers” and monkeys and telling us to go back to Africa. It really blows my mind to see this type of stuff so when I looked at your piece I was like wow… If this isn’t relevant.
Terry’s Response: Thank you.
Question: So you have another piece… I’m not sure what the name of it is… I’m trying see it’s the one where…
Terry Interjects: With the ships? The one with the silhouette of America?
My Response: No but we can talk about that one. Thank you for bringing it up… The Killmonger! What did he say “bury me in the ocean with my ancestors”...
Terry finishes the quote: “burry me in the ocean with my ancestors because they knew that death was better than bondage”
My Response: So you saw the Black Panther?
Answer: Oh my god,yeah! It changed my life! I was with my little brother... it was for my birthday. That’s why went to go see it. My birthday is February 19 and the movie came out February 16 and I went and saw it on the 18th.
My Response: The movie came out February 16 and it didn’t break records it shattered records…
Terry’s Response: The highest grossing superhero movie of all time with an all black cast.
Question: So, that particular scene or statement when Killmonger said that inspired that piece?
Answer: Yeah cause I bought that… That’s a piece of wood… That’s a huge piece of wood, I bought it at a store… My mom and I... we were in a store and I was looking at stuff and it caught my eye. It was America and I was like cool so I bought it to school and my teacher was like “that’s stupid and corny” and I was like “I’m bout to use it!”. So I left it… We had it in my class and I was sitting on that canvas for almost a month and a half ... and I came in school one day and I was looking at it and I was listening to the Joey Bada$$ album and it hit me... I was like I’m about to draw something about Black Panther because I’ve been thinking about it all the time. And it just came to me... The Amistad... The Amistad is one of the stories about those people because it’s what happened so I was like I’m going to draw The Amistad. So I drew a quick layout and I just started doing it and I was done with the piece in four hours. I had in school suspension so I just kind of did it inside in school suspension.
My Response: Pause, why did you have in school suspension?
Terry’ Response: Oh tardies… I don’t have behavioral issues I’m just always late to class ... it’s ridiculous like I just talk... I’m a social butterfly honestly.
Question: It’ll get you places though. Okay, so I figured it out lol okay so the hashtag you have in the caption is “Her Choice”. Is that the name of the painting?
Answer: Yea... I forgot about that… It might as will be the piece name.
My Response: So, on there you painted “how can you plant the seed and not return 4 the harvest” tell me about that…
Terry’s Response: So last Monday I was with one of my friends and we were doing something and he got a phone call... a girl called him and told him that he’s going to be a father. So after it happened he was on my heart and we were praying about it... after that I was sitting there and I was just looking at this canvas that my teacher gave me the day before... and I was just looking at it... that picture before I posted it, it was done that same day. So I was sitting down and I was listening to this song by King Los and it’s called Little Black Boy and I’ve been listening to this song since I was 15... I was listening to it and I was just really confused… so this song came on and I hadn’t listened to it in a long time and it was one line that just got to me and it was “how could you plant the seed and I return for the harvest” and it just hit me...
I just started to think about the story of my mom and when I started to think about the story of my mom I had the idea of this girl because she wanted to abort the child the last that I heard... so I was like abortion and I don’t believe in abortion… So the way it happened I was thinking about her and I was drawing that silhouette... an idea of a girl that I know that was having a child with my friends you know soon to be baby mama… so I was drawing the picture and it just came to me that I was going to have her hand touching her stomach and I wanted it to be a silhouette because I didn’t want it to be about a single person and if it wasn’t a real person it wouldn’t have my friend caught up... so I decided to change it... I had the idea of the woman which had the different shades of girls and stuff I wanted to put that in... I submitted that into the picture and that’s how I got the different shades of the girls in the world... I wanted it to be symbolic because when you think about it, a child well not even a child... any person... it’s going to affect boatloads of people... millions of people not even knowingly... it’s so many indirect relationships that you grow from just one person being born so that’s the world. You feel me?
So, I had the idea of the heart because if you’re a woman and you’re about to have a child your heart should be tied to this whole idea of conception. It’s a beautiful thing. So that’s why I had the idea of the heart being where it’s at… So that’s how it was made. It just came out like that... so baby blue... I picked blue in the background because I feel like the child is going to be a boy when it’s born.
My response: So “her choice”… It was displayed on The Shade Room to 44,000 people...
Terry interjects: Probably even more than that…
Question: Yeah that’s not mentioning people who screenshot it, the people who saved it, the people who shared it with their friends through DM… I haven’t even looked on Facebook to see if it’s surfaced there or Twitter. I’m sure it did because I think The Shade Room shares their stuff on Twitter and stuff too so I have to look it up. How do you feel?
Terry’s Response: This is the second time that they’ve posted me… It’s happened for two consecutive weeks… The first one was the Killmonger piece and then the second one was that one and it’s funny because last week when it happened it was on Wednesday and it’s on Wednesday again because we’re talking so they post them on Wednesdays.
I was at church and I wasn’t supposed to go to church that day I only went because my brothers mom told us to come and I was super late and I was frustrated but I came to the church and I saw my brother... he was talking to the pastor and I went over to talk to him and when I was talking to him, I was just telling him how I felt and how I left chipotle and all these other things and he was like “how do you feel about the situation?” and I told him that it’s kind of hard sometimes because financially I’m not where I used to be ... but after that happened he was like God will open doors for you… And after we were done talking I got into the car and I looked on my social media and I saw my friend... she had tagged me in something from The Shade Room and I was like “I don’t even care” but I looked on there and all of a sudden I’m looking and I’m like “it’s Wednesday” and I keep swiping and then it’s like boom I’m on there and I started screaming and yelling and screaming it was crazy! I wasn’t expecting that so I don’t know what gateways can open up from this only time will tell.
Question: Give me your top three favorite artists.
Answer: Number one is Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean-Michele Basquiat was a mover and a shaker he died in the 1980's over a heroin overdose and he is by far my favorite artist, my brother Neo he's a photographer... he is my second favorite muse, and my third would be a boy his name is Nikolas A. Draper-Ivey, I've been following him since I was 10 years old and he is the one who did the Black Panther cover. I've been watching him since he was a freshman in college and now it's been 8 years... he's a big artist it's ridiculous.
My Response: Wow! Isn't it amazing watching people grow?
Terry's Response: It's really sick when you think about it... it's like "I've seen your come up ", it's amazing.
This conversation with Terry went way better than I imagined it would, the best part is that we were able to cover a wide range of issues that affect people of color. Terry’s mentality proved to be far beyond his years and I am confident and hopeful that his future will be bright and prosperous.