Multi-talented artist Terry Urban has had an odd career trajectory. He’s gone from an 18-year-old, full-on wannabe pro skateboarder turned DJ to commissioned New York studio artist. Urban’s story begins with throwing classical education out the window, shunning books and scientific calculators for a skateboard and a plane ticket to California.
In 1996, an 18-year-old Urban moved out to Los Angeles in the prime era of skateboarding culture. We’re talking the still illegal, run from the cops, World Industries and Big Brother magazine days. Nerve is not enough to be a pro skater; you need raw talent.
“I was not good enough to be sponsored,” Urban admits.
The free stuff from sponsored friends was almost enough to feed his skateboard dreams. The multiple skateboarding tickets from law enforcement forced Urban back home. After some warrants, and eventually paying off all the tickets, he moved back to the mecca of skate – Cleveland.
Obviously, being discovered doing kickflips in Ohio is next to impossible. Despite this, Urban says he “ate drank and slept skateboarding,” which led him to the biggest part of skating other than the board itself.
“I always paid attention to the music,” Urban says. “I could hear them scratching in the background.”
Growing up with a mix of the skate culture and the ‘70s rock his mom piped into his brain, Urban’s next career move was a no brainer. However, becoming a lucrative DJ is not as easy as moving home and printing business cards. Instead of stagnating, Urban had a standard 9-to-5 blue collar job.
After years of begging his dad, Urban finally got some “DJ in a box” Guitar Center turntables. He carved out a name for himself in the local DJ market. Between gigs, Urban tagged streetcars, which was the genesis of his aggressive and confrontational artwork. Urban still flies into Cleveland to DJ for “I Got Five On It,” a party at Touch Supper Club with a cultivated feeling of an old school basement rager he started 13 years ago.
He eventually went from a kid with turntables to a bonafide DJ. Urban worked at Z 107.9 and started several shows all over town, but he wanted more. He moved to New York City and released several mashups while there, some to critical and legal acclaim. The feeling of expression was fading from the turntables. The mixtape arena was muddy and unclear at the time, so Urban branched out into a different medium.
“There’s a bunch of shit that I’ve done,” Urban says. “Sometimes I hear a song and I think about doing a remix, but I’m over it, dude. When I was producing music, I was doing it with my hands. When I transitioned into painting, I was still expressing myself with my hands.”
Urban’s art is aggressive and rooted in a real place. He still spins, but now he spends most of his time walking from the art store to his studio in Bushwick, nestled between Brooklyn and Queens. He’s also working on a Converse shoe with an L.A.-based clothing company called For Those Who Sin. He still can handle a party, but Urban would rather reach people with his artwork these days.
“The idea that something I painted got into someone’s brain and has moved them to buy something I created still blows my mind,” he exclaims.
Urban’s art is worth a look. He takes risks and makes statements about love, race, pop culture, and modern art. Urban has built his art empire off the back of a couple of art classes at Cuyahoga Community College. He also quotes Jean-Michel Basquiat when asked about inspiration – “Occasionally, when I get mad at a woman, I’ll do some great, awful painting of her.”
Still, all this high art can be reached at a 216 phone number. Urban says he’s an AT&T customer for life – “I’m grandfathered in.” Transform your whole station in life, but for the love of God, keep your Cleveland phone number.
Check out Terry Urban’s many talents for yourself at terryurban.com, or @terryurban on Twitter and Instagram.
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James Earl Brassfield or simply JEB is a writer, podcast host, humorist, actor and “Black Hunter Thompson” type madman of no ill repute. Language has yet to evolve fully to describe his unique view of Northeast Ohio and the world. JEB produces work across all media with his original and clearly stated voice. @Jearlbrass