The artist moves from the billiard hall to the art gallery

From a young age, Terry Norman had known he could draw, that he was good at it.

Growing up first on Columbus' South Side, and later the East Side, he was from a family of artists — his mother an author and art collector, an aunt a painter and an uncle an architect and designer of greeting cards. Norman was also encouraged by his mother to explore his own creativity, even spending two summers in the Saturday Morning Art Classes program at CCAD, earning a scholarship due to his skill with a graphite pencil.

But as he got older, rather than dabble in art, Norman committed himself to a different pursuit: billiards. At this, he was also good. Really good. He ran teams, organized tournaments and competed to go professional.

But he hung on to a bag full of art supplies. And more than just hung on to it — he took it with him most places he went, including work, where he would often draw during his breaks, and in the pool halls.

“Art just wasn't my main focus. It wasn't something I applied myself towards,” Norman said in an interview at Art of Republic, where an exhibition of his charcoal celebrity portraits will be on view through July 2. “I had this bag of art supplies and a friend at work would get on me, telling me, ‘You're not really working on your art.' I would sketch sometimes [and] design people's tattoos, but I just wasn't serious about it.”

He just needed the right inspiration to draw him back in. In 2014, Norman decided he'd heard from enough people. At a pool match, he started working on a portrait of his daughter, Khloe, with a graphite pencil. She became a popular subject for his continued work in portraiture, but Norman wasn't achieving the depth and value for which he was looking, so he began experimenting with charcoal. It was “messier,” Norman said, but as he continued to learn how to work with it — eventually adding blending stumps and dry brushes to his technique — he became more pleased with the results.

“I knew her look, the types of expressions I was going to get, and I was really liking the feeling that was coming out,” Norman said, adding that he'd included a picture of Khloe in every one of his exhibitions until this current one at Art of Republic.

But he soon figured that he'd need to have more than just drawings of his daughter. He also knew he wanted to keep on with the portrait work he was doing. So he turned his attention to celebrities and popular culture.

“I started doing characters from things I love, singers I love, and some of the celebrities from the past, to bring some of that history up to the younger generation,” Norman said. Singers including Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, cultural touchpoints such as Richard Pryor and and Muhammad Ali to the contemporary faces of Erykah Badu and Mos Def have all been rendered in charcoal.

“These are people that I enjoy, whose spirit I wanted to try and capture,” Norman said. “Some were as a tribute, like to Robin Williams when he passed. I did Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka right around the time he passed. I did Hattie McDaniel because so many people don't know who she is. I had to explain to so many people that she was the first African-American to win an Academy Award.”

Each is also an opportunity for Norman to perfect his technique.

“I love it when people looking at the pictures think they're [looking at] photos,” he said. “It is the effect I'm going for. But they're not hyper-real, to where once I show people what to look for, they'll see the depth and the texture.”

Not all of this work will go away at the conclusion of this exhibition. Norman's portrait of Richard Pryor will be part of the Short North Mural Series in August, celebrating the Harlem Renaissance. Marcia Evans Gallery will show another of his works during the mural series.

“I grew up listening to Richard Pryor. I wanted to show him grinning, those teeth,” Norman said. “It just felt like the right image for him.”

What felt right to Norman was to give up playing pool, despite still having a love for the game.

“It was worth it. It's given me the ability to give more time and attention to the art,” he said.