The College of Fine Arts has been saddened to lose the artistic genius of art alumnus and Hall of Fame member Terry Adkins, M.S. ’77, who once noted that “Illinois State University was the nourishing cradle of my blossoming vision of the world.”
Terry was on campus last spring to deliver a stirring commencement address for the College of Fine Arts. He died last month in New York at the age of 60, shortly after it was announced that he would be honored by having his work featured in the Whitney Binnial, opening this week.
The New York Times noted Terry’s passing: Terry Adkins, Composer of Art, Sculptor of Music, Dies at 60
“Terry always saw object and sound and movement and words and images all as the material for his art,” Thelma Golden, the director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, said in an interview on Friday. “He was so deeply inspired by aesthetics, philosophy, spirituality, music, history and culture, and he had such a fertile and generative mind, that he was always able to move between many different ideas and create a lot of space and meaning in a work.”
To his sculpture, Mr. Adkins sought to bring the fleeting impermanence of music, creating haunting assemblages of found objects — wood, cloth, coat hangers, spare parts from junkyards — that evoked vanished histories.
To his improvisational, jazz-inflected music, he brought the muscular physicality of sculpture, forging immense, curious instruments from assorted materials. Many were playable, including a set of 18-foot-long horns he called arkaphones.
His sculptures were often inspired by, and dedicated to, historical figures, from musical heroes like blues singer Bessie Smith, guitarist Jimi Hendrix (whose music he credited with saving his life, drawing him away from friends who were negative influences) and composer Ludwig van Beethoven to the writer and activist W. E. B. Du Bois and the abolitionist John Brown. What united them? “Super-human feats of singular vision, overcoming adversity and being able to affect large bodies of people by these actions,” he said.