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Colorful Calling


Terrance Osborne’s star is rising over Jazz Fest again this year. Artist Terrance Osborne painted 50 coconuts in preparation for his ride in this year’s Zulu parade. He knew the Mardi Gras Day parade crowd would be rowdy — but he wasn’t prepared for just how eager some parade-goers would be to get their hands on an Osborne coconut.
“By the middle of the parade, I was actually ducking because so many people wanted them … people went crazy,” Osborne says. “I felt like I was some mega-superstar and the paparazzi were after me!”

That kind of reception is a testament to Osborne’s talent. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has commissioned a festival poster since 1975; in 1998, it added another yearly poster, known as the Congo Square Series. After creating two Congo Square posters for the festival (2007 and 2010) and 2012’s critically acclaimed, official festival poster of Trombone Shorty, Osborne was once again tapped to create this year’s official Jazz Fest poster.

The piece — a precisely composed, color-saturated depiction of the Preservation Hall Band in full swing — showcases all the hallmarks of Osborne’s painting style, from its playful, elevated perspective to its use of distinctive, vibrant hues like aqua, violet and emerald.

Osborne and other Jazz Fest poster artists work closely with Bud Brimberg, creator of the festival’s first official poster, on a given year’s poster design until Brimberg is satisfied. “It’s very intense working with him,” Osborne says. “He pushes you to the edge of the cliff. Then, just when you think you’re safe, he pushes you off — and you fly.”

This year’s Jazz Fest painting is a gorgeous work of art, but, more than that, it’s saturated with energy and movement. That’s Osborne’s goal in all of his work. “There’s enough negativity in the world,” he says. “Why paint about it? Why create more of that negativity? I’d much rather create something beautiful that makes you feel good.”

Osborne grew up in New Orleans, and studied fine arts at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Xavier University. He began painting on sheets of wood, because they were cheaper than large canvases, and he relies on a jigsaw to cut out the three-dimensional elements that he often uses to make paintings stand out.

He still talks regularly with his early teacher and mentor, artist Richard Thomas. “As a matter of fact, he’s doing the Congo Square poster [this year],” says Osborne. “It’s humbling, really, because he’s my teacher, and he basically put the paintbrush in my hand. This is the first time that a teacher and a student have worked together on Jazz Fest posters.”

Thomas’ emphasis on color helped shape Osborne’s approach to both art and life. “I find beauty in the simple things — the things that are closest to nature,” Osborne says. “I love what time does to buildings and to places. That’s beautiful to me — no matter how torn-down it is.”

He regularly donates his work to benefit local charities, and recently finished painting a custom-made playhouse built by woodworking artist Matthew Holdren. The playhouse will be raffled off to benefit Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jefferson Parish.

Osborne and his wife, Stephanie, who manages the business side of his artwork, are planning to open a gallery this summer. “I always said I didn’t want a gallery — just because I’ve always considered myself a family man,” Osborne says. “I’ve built my career around my family life, making sure that family is first.” But now the time is ripe for Terrance Osborne Gallery. So if you didn’t catch one of Osborne’s Zulu coconuts, you’ll be able to catch his paintings in person.