St. Louis painter faced long road to recovery

“Forest Floor” by Terry Whittle

By Sarah Weinman

Terry Whittle, whose work is featured at the Clayton Fine Art Gallery, has quite a history with the gallery. A number of years ago he was installing some of his pieces when he fell off a ladder. The fall broke his back and paralyzed him. He sold all of his art supplies because he believed he would never paint again, but thankfully he was wrong. Thanks to physical therapy, hard work and emotional support from friends, Whittle was finally able to stand at his easel and paint again. He created all of his oil paintings in this exhibition after his accident.

Most of Whittle’s pieces depict trees and plants in autumn. The luxurious and saturated colors and impressionistic style celebrate the season. It may not be too much of a stretch to see the metaphor of the artist’s accident in these paintings. Though in autumn the days grow darker and colder, light and warmth lay ahead. 

“Forest Floor” depicts four large white tree trunks in the foreground, with smaller trunks in the background. Green grass contrasts with brilliant red, orange, yellow, and pink foliage which nearly blocks out the sky, leaving only a few small areas of blue. These jubilant explosions of color and cheerfulness almost cannot restrain themselves within the canvas.

Trees also takes center stage in “Muddy Birch.” A stand of birches seems to march from the foreground to the background. Beneath them, a carpet of bright yellow fallen leaves extends to the horizon. Whittle takes artistic liberty by painting the birch trunks blue and white instead of black and white, a nod to the 19th-century Impressionists who painted objects not their actual colors but the colors they seemed to be in the light of that moment.

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Whittle juxtaposes the natural and the man-made in “West End Walk” with a sidewalk at the left, houses at the right, and trees in between. A tall pale tree, possibly a sycamore, rises so high in the foreground that we cannot see the top. The dark trees along the sidewalk have bright red foliage which glows like fire against the pale blue sky. Red and orange flowers grow at the base of the sycamore in front of dark green bushes.

Terry Whittle’s paintings are on view at the Clayton Fine Art Gallery through August 27. The gallery is located at 21 N. Bemiston in downtown Clayton. Gallery hours are Tuesday – Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday noon – 5 p.m.; and closed Monday. For more information, call 314-696-2244 or visit