Plastered: Venetian Plaster Panels and Mirrors by Rab Terry

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In the hands of a skilled artisan, Venetian plaster can transform a plain surface into something spectacular. San Francisco artist Rab Terry has been producing such elegant transformations for years; a variety of his Venetian plaster pieces will be on display in Plastered at STUDIO Gallery in San Francisco. The show, which runs from September 14th Â? October 2nd, includes both TerryÂ?s Venetian plaster panels and mirrors.

Terry is known for his functional art: painted canvas floorcloths, mirrors, whimsical children's furniture, innovative wall treatments and Venetian plaster. He originally came to art from a background in science: he has a degree in molecular biology and did graduate work in marine microbiology. His start in the art world came when a friend who was refinishing furniture needed some chemical expertise. He “fell in love with the alchemy of patination” and hasn't looked back.

Today, Terry often uses metal leaf and metallic glazes to provide a contrasting surface with Venetian plaster, which is a modern term for an ancient Italian stucco technique. The plaster itself is a combination of aged, slaked lime, marble dust and pigment. Terry uses lightweight wood frames for the panels. The tinted plaster is applied in thin layers with stainless steel blades and trowels; the process is quite labor-intensive. The plaster, which dries to a matte finish, can be burnished to sheen, and the tool marks and level of burnishing all add to the textural beauty of this material.

Terry started studying the plastering technique about 7 years ago. A researcher at heart, he loves to pore over books detailing how the process was originally done; one of his favorites is a 15th-century handbook written by a working artist. He began making small panels to try out various techniques and color combinations; he hung these pieces in his studio at the Hunters Point Shipyard, and to his surprise customers wanted to purchase the panels. “The panels and mirrors are more portable—and affordable—than finishing an entire wall or room,” he says. Today about half the panels he makes are commission pieces, based on specific requests from designers and retail customers. The larger pieces are particularly dramatic and are popular with loft owners and others who need a decorative piece with a lot of impact.

Interior designer Dana Walsh of Your Design Coach has worked with Terry for several years. From her offices in the San Francisco Design Center, she writes that "Rab's finishes are distinctive, with a depth and nuance you just can't achieve in a painted piece. I've used his mirrors and screens in a variety of interiors, from ultra contemporary to quite traditional. I especially appreciate his willingness to customize color and size.”

Deanna Gogol, Facilities and Events Manager for the York Hotel Group, has purchased Rab's Venetian plaster panels for the lobbies of three of their boutique hotels in downtown San Francisco. “All three lobbies have very different styles, and the panels complement each one in a different way. We wanted unique signature pieces that would help set our properties apart and help to identify our brand. And we love the fact that the work is from a local artist.”

Plastered will be on display at STUDIO Gallery, which Terry opened with his wife, Jennifer Farris, in 2003. Farris says, "It's the perfect environment to see Terry's panels and mirrors, because he's also finished many of the walls in the gallery, in addition to a lot of the furniture used for displaying art. The joke around the gallery is that if you sit still too long, Rab will cover you with plaster and burnish you to a sheen. Luckily, we're pretty busy."

Plastered runs from September 14th – October 2nd, 2005. STUDIO Gallery is located at 1718A Polk Street (between Clay and Washington) in San Francisco. Gallery hours are Wednesday – Friday 11 am – 8 pm, Saturday + Sunday 11 am – 6 pm, and Monday + Tuesday by appointment. For more information contact the gallery at 415-931-3130 or

About STUDIO Gallery

STUDIO Gallery was founded in 2003 to showcase the work of Bay Area artists. The gallery features fine art, crafts and home furnishings.


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