Login to Claremont COURIER

Artist captures meaningful garden views

If you’re looking to artist Terry Givens to be bristling with eccentricities and putting on the airs of an haute “artiste,” then you’re barking up the wrong tree, in the wrong garden.

Mr. Givens, who just turned 80, has a new show opening at Claremont’s Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden next week, “100 Garden Views,” and he’s the flipside of that stereotype. You might even say he’s of that rare breed: the modest artist.

“I’ve reduced everything down to a nine by twelve, that’s it, and I can just give them away,” Mr. Givens said of the size of the ink drawings for 100 Garden Views. “It doesn’t make any difference to me, but it did to the people up at the Garden.”

It’s a dizzying collection of small ink drawings, each rendered from the perspective of some 100 memorial tribute benches scattered throughout the Garden’s 85-acres. Mr. Givens spent about three years working on the collection. The show opens to the public next Friday, June 29, and will be up through September. The drawings are $150, with all proceeds going to support the Garden’s volunteer and education programs.

David Bryant, 28, has been the Garden’s exhibition, design and communication manager for about two-and-a-half years. “The people who purchase these tribute benches to remember someone by, they’re placed very lovingly, and with a very particular view in mind,” he said. “So, when Terry’s drawing from these he’s not only recording the layers of interactions he’s witnessing, he’s viewing the benches from these peoples’ perspectives. It’s just a really nice holistic view of the Garden.”

The Garden’s gallery has space for about 30 drawings. As the pieces are sold, new works will be mounted. A catalog of all the drawings will be available at the show.

“Some are more surrealistic than others,” Mr. Givens said. “It’s basically what I have seen while I have been sitting there. Some are more illustrative, others are little bit more, well, different, because that’s what I see also.”

Mr. Givens has been involved in Claremont’s art scene for more than a half century. He spent his childhood in El Monte, graduating high school in 1956. After a stint in the US Air Force as a photographer, he and his wife Carolyne were married in 1961 at Claremont Methodist Church.

They settled in Claremont in 1964, where they remained until moving just outside the city limits to Upland in 2016. “We still think of ourselves as Claremonters, but we’re just on the border,” he said. The couple have three grown children, Karin, Mark and Krista. They celebrated their 50th Wedding anniversary at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in 2011.

He founded San Dimas High School’s art department in 1971, and remained on the job there teaching art until 1989. He also worked with the California Department of Education from 1991 to 2001, spent two years running part of the California Arts Project at Cal State San Bernardino, and was an adjunct faculty member at Cal Poly Pomona from 2002 to 2012.

Mr. Givens’ art had a surrealist bent from an early age. “My dad had some old drawings that I made,” he recalled. “I remember my mother said that she sent my father—he was in the Navy—a drawing that I made of airplanes dropping tomatoes over some place.”

He also drew cartoons throughout his tenure at San Dimas High. Most of them were political in nature, and for the amusement of the school’s faculty. His cartoons also appeared in the now defunct Pomona Clarion, a newspaper founded in 1969 that was devoted to African American affairs. Mr. Givens’ son Mark, the owner of publishing house Pelekinesis, released an anthology of his 1971-72 Clarion cartoons, Diary of a Mad House-Husband, in 2012. It’s available on Amazon.

The artist was also instrumental in establishing Claremont Methodist Church’s inclusive stance, serving on its Reconciling Committee in 1993, which, by vote, declared the congregation was open to anybody.

“There was and still is a big bias on the part of a lot of church folks against gay, lesbian and bisexual people,” he said. “It was really important to establish as a kind of a base for folks in this community. It’s inclusive in every way. I think that’s what makes it is a really close church. What we try to do is make sure people who come there, even first-timers, are welcome.”

Mr. Givens still takes photographs of the discussions that take place after services every Sunday at Claremont Methodist, and posts them on its Facebook page.

“I try and get as many new people in the photographs as I can, because it’s important to make people know that a part of this is establishing community.”

He’s had a few scattered shows over the years, at the Rotary Club’s Taste of Claremont event, Claremont Community Foundation, and at Some Crust Bakery in the Village, but he’s not a vigorous networker.

“I kind of shy away from shows,” he said. “I’ve probably given more things away than I’ve held onto.”

Some artists might finish two or three paintings in a year. When you compare that Mr. Givens’ output, 100 Garden Views is even more astounding.

“That is a lot of art,” Mr. Bryant said. “And there’s something really special about his work. He just captures the essence of this garden. They really do showcase a piece of this really special garden.”

Mr. Givens is prone to laugh at such flattery, which is a refreshing quality in an artist, or anybody for that matter. It’s something all creative types can aspire to: to be able to take oneself a little less seriously, and enjoy the process. It may be his new octogenarian status that makes him so humble, but this reporter guesses he’s always been this “chill,” as the kids say.

“I just do them because I love them,” Mr. Givens said of his 100 Garden Views drawings. “People need to be able to look at art, and small art, little things. They’re drawn to honor the people that have already been honored.”

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is located at 1500 N. College Ave., Claremont. For more information,  visit rsabg.org, call (909) 625 8767 or email info@rsabg.org.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com