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Terence Netter

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Terence Netter with a painting of lavender from his French Perspectives series. File photo

By Rita J. Egan

The Three Village community is mourning the loss of a champion of the arts. Terence Netter, known by many as Terry, died June 27 at his home in Setauket. He was 89.

The professional artist, professor and once Jesuit priest was born Donald Terence Netter in New Rochelle April 12, 1929. He left the Jesuit order in 1968 and married Therese Franzese the same year. The couple moved to Setauket in 1979, and in later years divided their time between their homes on Long Island and in France.

Terence Netter with his painting ‘Sunrise at Low Tide’ File photo

Netter was the founding director of the Stony Brook University Fine Arts Center, now named the Staller Center, a position he began in 1979 and held for 18 years. In 1984, The Village Times named him Man of the Year in the Arts for his achievements at the center, which included bringing high-quality art, music, theater and well-known musicians to the community. He also helped to create the Friends of the Arts Center.

“Our programming is intelligent and aims for a standard of excellence,” Netter said in a 1984 interview. “We’re not Lincoln Center, but we are in the big leagues of higher education.”

According to his wife, Netter received an honorary degree from Stony Brook University in 2013 which was in addition to multiple degrees he had already earned. Netter had a bachelor’s in English and master’s in philosophy from Fordham University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in studio art from George Washington University.

Alan Inkles, current director of the Staller Center, said Netter gave him a job as theater manager at the arts center in 1983.

“I learned a lot from him,” Inkles said. “He was a great mentor and a great guy to work for, very supportive of everybody.”

Gene Sprouse, an SBU distinguished professor emeritus, met Netter at the university 40 years ago when he served on the board of the Friends of the Arts Center. He credited him with mentoring artists, musicians and art managers, and fostering the acquisition by SBU of the Pollock-Krasner House in East Hampton; Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner were both renowned artists.

“Terry Netter has left an indelible mark on the arts community in the Three Villages,” Sprouse said. “As founding director of the Fine Arts Center at Stony Brook, he was instrumental in growing and strengthening the arts in the area.”

Netter was also on the board of trustees at Gallery North in Setauket and was a past president of the gallery. His artwork has been showcased there several times through the years. In 2017 at its annual gala, the gallery named him a “community treasure.”

Gallery North director Judith Levy said Netter was a tremendous asset. “He’s one of the most intellectual people that I’ve ever met,” Levy said. “He was a great mentor, a serious person with kind of a twinkle in his eye and always a good joke or good story to tell.”

Levy said an exhibit of Netter’s work is slated for October at the gallery. She said although his artwork has many facets, while living in France the artist developed a love of the horizon line, and created many renditions of the vista.

Outside of the Three Village area, Netter’s work was exhibited at the Woodward Gallery in New York City, where he has been represented for many years, and galleries and museums in San Francisco, France and more, according to his wife.

Among his many career achievements, he was the director of the Paul Mellon Arts Center at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut, and contributed to the study abroad program for the University of Southern Mississippi at Pontlevoy, France, in the later years of his career.

“Wherever he went he gravitated to any place that was serious about art,” Therese Netter said. “Once he made connections, people just loved him.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he would remember Netter as an internationally accomplished artist who lived modestly amongst his fellow Setauket residents. The assemblyman met the artist more than 30 years ago, and for a few years Netter rented studio space in a building that Englebright’s family owns. “He lifted us all with his art and with his very strong sense of place and with his spirit,” Englebright said.

In a June 10, 2017, interview for TBR News Media’s Arts & Lifestyles section, Netter was asked what he wanted art lovers to feel or see when they viewed his paintings.

“I want the viewer’s mind and eye to take a walk beyond the here and now,” Netter said. “I hope that they experience that there is more beyond the horizon — the possibility of existence beyond the reach of our senses, even though we can’t see it. Most of all, I wish that they sense the deep peace that I am trying to evoke in my paintings.”

Netter is survived by his wife Therese, son Dylan and his beloved dog, Pip. A private Mass was held at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan.

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'Exodus' by Terence Netter

By Irene Ruddock

Terence Netter

Terence Netter, who divides his time between Setauket and Saint-Georges-sur-Cher, France, has had an illustrious career that includes teaching, painting and wide-ranging administrative work in the arts. Locally, he is known for his achievements as the first director of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, and, of course, for the visionary power of his paintings. Honored recently for these contributions by Gallery North, Netter is referred to as a “community treasure.”

As Staller Center director for 19 years, what was your vision for the center?

My goal was to make the center a major showcase for the arts. I am delighted to see how it has grown under the present leadership continuing to ever expand this goal.

What inspired you to evolve into painting landscapes in a minimalist style?

I changed my style of paintings to do works which evoke a sense of peace. When I moved to France, I became a practitioner and devotee of Zen Mediation which is an ancient technique of emptying one’s mind of distractions to enter a zone of peace. It calms your spirit so that you feel at one with the universe. My present painting process is a form of this meditation, and my newer paintings are an indication of this change. I call them “Zenscapes.”

 

‘Sunrise at Low Tide’ by Terence Netter

As a Christian, how do you reconcile Christianity and Zen Meditation?

The tradition of Christianity includes meditation. I was imbued with this through my study with the Jesuits. I find that both are traditions of finding peace in this ever more contentious and noisy world. Prayer and meditation are both ways of searching for the great mysteries of life and both have led me to paint in a peaceful manner.

How are art and religion entwined?

They are very much alike. The great philosopher Hegel said that art is the sensuous expression of the visual, and religion is the imaginative. Art and religion are two different forms of expressing the fact that the human spirit continues to evolve toward the infinite.

You often speak of achieving peace in your paintings. How do you define peace?

St. Thomas Aquinas says that “Peace is the tranquility of order.”

I’ve noticed that you often have the sun or moon in your paintings. What is the significance?

It’s the circle of life. The sun represents male power as exemplified by the god Apollo while the moon is represented by the goddess Venus. If you really want the answer to that, you will have to speak with my psychiatrist!

You also describe yourself as a teacher. What is your goal as a teacher?

I feel more complete as a person in the act of teaching. It is, for me, a way of growing. I teach in order to learn. I want to show students that life is an adventure in an unknown country — it is a “vision quest.” My goal as a teacher is to inspire young minds to open up, remove prejudices, and to set people on the path to finding truth. I encourage the study of the great thinkers who have influenced me such Hegel, Rahner, Kant and Chardin, to inspire the reflection necessary for growth. To grow, you have to be plugged into the spirit of the times — the Zeitgeist!

In your lectures, you talk about the search for the meaning of art through the centuries. What is your definition of the meaning of art?

I believe that art is nature reborn through the free consciousness of the human spirit. Artists create a new world for people to enter. Art is the visual expression of that infinitely evolving human spirit which is why each generation has to create their own vision of art.

Why did you choose the Loire Valley for your second home?

I went there when I was young and decided to take my wife Therese to visit on our 30th anniversary. We bought a little farmhouse and that is where I now do most of my painting. There I was inspired to paint the French Perspectives series and others that express “emotions recollected in tranquility.” My paintings have been described as capturing that special light and perfumed air of the Loire Valley.

You have mentioned that you spend time writing in France. Can you share with our readers what you are writing?

Yes, I am writing my memoirs!

Where can we see your art?

In Setauket, I am exhibiting my selected works at Gallery North (90 North Country Road, Setauket) until June 17 and in New York City I am represented by the Woodward Gallery. I am especially honored to be in many museums and private collections in the States and in Europe.

What do you want the viewer to feel or see when they view your paintings?

I want the viewer’s mind and eye to take a walk beyond the here and now. I hope that they experience that there is more beyond the horizon — the possibility of existence beyond the reach of our senses, even though we can’t see it. Most of all, I wish that they sense the deep peace that I am trying to evoke in my paintings.

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