Artist Spotlight: Dick Termes

Dick Termes is an artist known for his optical illusion paintings known as Termespheres, which show an inside-out view of the total physical world around you on the outside surface of a rotating sphere. His work has been featured in dozens of publications and Termespheres are in permanent collections around the world. In this interview, Dick spoke to us about the inspiration behind his unique spherical artwork, his dome-shaped gallery space, and how he plans to weave new technology into his designs. 

Cubical Universe

What is a Termesphere and what is your inspiration for creating them?

In the beginning, I started painting on the sphere because it allowed me to do total visual space, whereas a normal painting deals with a more limited space. It’s a little square of a rectangle out of the world. The Termesphere concept grew out of pushing perspective and realizing that the more points you have in perspective, the bigger panoramic you would get. A typical panoramic visual image is, in my mind, a four point perspective- North, East, South, West. I wanted to create a six point perspective. I was seeing worlds I wanted to capture that were total environments. I wanted to capture everything above me, around me, and below me in one picture.

I later got into geometrical systems that fit on the sphere and optical illusions that worked on the spheres. My depiction of famous interiors probably grew out of that perspective. I wanted to capture the complete worlds of famous interiors that I could get inside of, so it was that that I think of as the Termesphere. 

Can you tell us about the six-point perspective system used in your work?

One of the simplest ways I can think to explain the six point perspective system is by explaining why I picked six points. The six points deal with cubical space. When you’re in a building, it’s usually a cubical building. The walls run North, South, East, West, up and down in any building or cathedral. Most cathedrals are cubical buildings. They all have six directions that the lines within that building run. 

Square Dance

What do you think about new technologies that are developing this concept, like the 360 degree VR videos we see now on YouTube?

It’s exactly the same kind of concept. Now, they’re getting interiors of buildings like Notre Dame Cathedral, where you can circle around and see the cathedral as if you were inside of it. 

I’ve actually developed a virtual reality experience of my spheres. We’ve turned the spheres inside out so you can use the oculus goggles and be inside the spheres and see them North, South, East, and West like you’re in a complete environment but the environment is the sphere and just flip flopped. The outside is on the inside and you’re inside of all of that, so it’s very similar to that technology. 

Can you describe your artistic process? 

My sphere itself is a light fixture, normally it would hang from your ceiling, like a big globe on your ceiling with a light in it. Or, it would be out in front of a school on a pole with lights in it. 

I start with a complete sphere that has a tiny, tiny hole in it and I have to rough it all up with sandpaper to get the paint to stick to it. I have custom body fill to get the seam so it’s perfectly smooth. Then, I give it coats of paint just like a normal artist would. I paint about five, six coats. That’s if I’m doing an opaque piece. Sometimes I do transparent spheres and instead of polyethylene, I use acrylic balls. They are acrylic plastic spheres that are totally transparent and I play with the inside of the sphere and the outside. I’ve done a lot of fun stuff with the transparent ball. 

My easel, which is a little different than most people’s easels, is a cylindrical easel with padding on top of the cylinder and then the ball sits in it but I’ve had it designed so it can spin. I can just spin the bucket and it spins around and I can tighten it up and it’ll slow it down. I can raise it, lower it, depending on what elevation I want to sit and look at the sphere from or paint on it. When I paint on the sphere, it’s kind of like I’m in the same spot all day long. I can get the most comfortable angle, turn the sphere, be painting on it, turn it again, with my hand remaining in the same angle as I rotate it. 

I use acrylic paints because they dry really fast. I used to be an oil painter so I’ve learned how to paint with acrylics but now I wouldn’t give up acrylics for anything. I like it better than oils, it’s faster. It’s kind of like the difference between a typewriter and a word processor, you can go a lot faster with your ideas.

When I first start, I actually start with six equidistant points on the sphere and then that becomes the up, down, North, East, South, West directions around me on the sphere. Then, I go from there, and I think: what does the environment look like? Is it the inside of a cathedral? Am I looking at that cathedral? Because that’s a very different way to think than when you’re just creating from scratch. You’re looking at the real environment outside the sphere that you want to put on the sphere. It’s a lot different than just creating from your imagination. 

What is your most notable piece, in terms of having an interesting story behind it and/or having significant value for you personally?
A piece I was really excited about, “Holes to the Whole”, was a three foot sphere and the project actually extended over many, many years. It was on a transparent wall and I did the first half of it thinking it was finished. It’s a transparent piece with cubical patterns on it, where you could look through the fall and see the patterns on the backside and the front side. It hangs down in the bank in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

After I did the first half, I got this idea that I was going to go back to it. This was maybe 10, 15 years after I did the original. I went back into it, and drew different sized circles all around the sphere and then I painted everything white, painted out the sphere, everything except inside those circles that I just drew on the sphere, so I could look into and see only what was inside the ball which was all these cubical patterns through the holes I drew. There’s maybe 50 of these circles in different sizes around the sphere that you could look in and see the cubical patterns if you look close. 

After I got it all chiseled in, then I decided I would make it into a room, a complicated room within rooms within rooms all over the place but in a six point perspective. And, so I designed a room on the right side of this sphere and put people standing around inside the room looking at the circles, which I thought of as spheres, like little spheres floating in this room. When you look into those little circles, they’re transparent holes but you see the patterns on the other side on the inside of the ball.

The backside of the ball is spinning. It really became a complicated sort of piece, but I was excited by it.

Holes to the Whole

The Termesphere Gallery is a very unique gallery space, unlike no other. Can you tell us a little bit about its inception and inspiration? 

Probably about 25, 30 years ago I got this idea to build my own gallery and have people come to it.

Years ago, I met Buckminster Fuller, who was the inventor of the geodesic dome. Through that, I got really excited about the geodesic dome because it relates to the kind of artwork that I had been doing for about four years before I met him. The Termesphere Gallery is the latest dome that we’ve built and it’s a 36 foot diameter, geodesic dome and spheres hang inside there. People are turned onto it because the dome for a gallery is a double-stacked geodesic dome. It’s a dome on top of a dome and so it’s pretty cool just to look at. Inside, the spheres are motorized, they rotate, so probably when you walk in the door there, you’re looking at about 75 different Termespheres that are hanging and turning. It knocks people back a couple of steps, they can’t believe that the environment of spheres spinning in front of them.

 We have a lot of spheres but also panoramics of the spheres. We have a little solar sphere that spins because of just the light. All of these kinds of things people experience when they walk in the door. It’s just outside of Spearfish, South Dakota. The other side of my property is state farm so it’s a property owned by our state so I have a lot of wonderful space around me that goes with it. The whole environment, I’ve played with it for years and years, so it’s a really special environment I think. 

What do you hope your work conveys for viewers?

I hope, in the end, my work helps people become more aware of the total worlds around us. Every second of every day as you walk around in our life and in our world, if you were to stop and look around, it would be a totally different environment than if you walked one more step and stopped and looked around again.

There’s complete worlds around us. Just because our eyes are just up front doesn’t mean we can’t turn around and look at the complete world. We all do that but we don’t think about it very much but I’m hoping that my effort in art makes people more aware of their environments. 

I also hope that, especially during COVID, my work helps viewers realize that they have to be very aware that we’re living on a spherical earth. My designing and playing with the sphere and the problems and designs of the sphere are very similar problems that we have on the Earth. What affects one side of the globe actually affects us in the end. With this virus, it’s a perfect example, because it affected everybody in the world. We’re not safe in America just to take care of ourselves because it’ll come back in other places. We have to start thinking globally and I’m hoping that my spheres help people become more aware of that level of sphericalness too. What goes around, comes around.

What’s next for you?

I’m hoping to get my spheres into big pieces. I would like them to grow into big pieces that would need 30-50 spheres. I’m hoping to include a virtual reality component where we can have people move through the inside of the sphere to have them understand what I’m doing more. So, some of the virtual reality would tie into it too. The next step for me really has to do with creating bigger and better shows.