Local Artist Terrance Mason Has Work Earn a Spot in Muhammad Ali Center’s Permanent Collection
Having grown up in Louisville, Terrance Mason was always a huge Muhammed Ali fan. Regarded by many as the greatest boxer of all time, Ali was an influential, charismatic athlete who cared about others and was known for saying, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”
“He had a big influence on my life and so many others, so I decided to create a piece of art that honored him,” Mason says.
The painting, titled “The Day the Galaxy Stood Still: The Greatest Vs. The Man of Steel,” depicts Ali boxing Superman. The idea was born from a 1970s Superman comic. Mason started the piece years ago, but his perfectionistic tendencies stifled him so he put it aside. Working full time at a youth detention center didn’t help, as he had little free time to devote to his art. In 2010 Mason severely injured his back at work and had to undergo fusions and injections, followed by hip replacements.
“I was never able to bounce back from that accident,” Mason says. “Over the last 11 years, I basically went from being a young 32-year-old to a 43-year-old disabled guy.”
Though he didn’t have his health, he still had his art. In fact, he credits his art as being the endeavor that kept him from succumbing to depression.
“It saved my life,” he says. “In a lot of ways, hurting my back is one of the best things that ever happened to me because it got me out of the 9-to-5 job that I hated and allowed me to reinvent myself.”
Mason let go of the old definition of the American dream and redefined it for himself. Rather than focusing on prosperity and success, he now is content with embracing who he is and what he loves.
“I’ve always been an artist at heart, but I had basically given up on art and let life get in the way,” Mason says. “It took my entire world being shaken apart for me to rediscover who I am. It took losing my mobility to make me realize that art is what I should be doing.”
When Ali passed away in June of 2016, Mason felt compelled to finish “The Day the Galaxy Stood Still.”
The Muhammad Ali Center opened in November of 2005. Their new chief executive officer started on January 17 – what would have been Ali’s 80th birthday.
“It’s an exciting time for the center as we move forward in our mission of promoting and preserving Muhammad’s legacy,” says Jeanie B. Kahnke, senior director of public relations and external affairs at the Muhammad Ali Center. “We do that through our award-winning permanent exhibits, temporary exhibits, educational programming, outreach initiatives and private events.”
When Kahnke and Bess Goldy, manager of collections, heard of Mason’s work, they were intrigued as they had never before seen artwork of Ali and Superman. When they laid eyes on the finished piece, which stands a whopping 10’ tall, they were blown away.
“It’s stellar,” Kahnke says. “You could tell that Terrance had put his heart and soul into this piece.”
“Ali was a bigger-than-life man and he deserved a bigger-than-life piece of art,” Mason says.
The mixed-media, multidimensional piece is more than a painting, as there are many components to it. It plugs in and lights up. Mason built the frame for it, and it’s self-standing. The background is an acrylic painting of Superman and Ali, and it includes a front inlay acrylic with a bee on it.
“Finishing that piece was a labor of love,” Goldy says. “We thought it would be a great addition to our collection.”
The collection committee meets quarterly to review all potential donations and decide which ones to add. Selections are made based on several factors, including whether they have the space to care for and preserve the piece, and whether it suits their mission. In the case of Mason’s piece, they elected to put it in their permanent collection on prominent display in the main lobby. That happened in September of 2021. The first time the artist himself set eyes on the piece in the Ali Center, he was humbled.
“It was one of the proudest moments of my life,” he says. “To have a piece of me be on display where anybody and everybody from all over the world will see it, I can’t even describe that feeling.”
His creations aren’t always on canvas or paper. His art incorporates a lot of carpentry work. In October of 2021, Mason suffered another accident when he lost part of his middle finger in a table-saw accident. The following day, however, he was back to creating art.
“I love what I do so much,” Mason says. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on in life. I have to do what makes me happy, and that’s creation. I love coming up with something different, something new every day.”
Unfortunately, Mason recently lost his studio space so he’s on the hunt for an affordable location so he can continue his work. After facing so many difficulties, the display of “The Day the Galaxy Stood Still” is a nice reminder that Mason is on the right path.
“My life started to show me that it’s still in my corner,” he says.
Since his painting was revealed at the Ali Center, Mason has heard from people he hasn’t seen in 30 years, wishing him well and congratulating him on a job well-done.
“It fills my heart with happiness and honestly makes me a bit misty because I never really felt I was worth much,” Mason says. “It’s amazing when you live your life and don’t think much of it or even think much of yourself. Then suddenly you realize you’re somebody special. I think a lot of people don’t realize how special they really are.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Ali Center had approximately 100,000 visitors per year, and the staff members are eager to welcome many more in 2022. Comments from visitors on Mason’s artwork have been positive.
“We’ve heard lots of oohs and aahs,” Goldy says. “Staff members have told me how awesome it is, and that it livens up the lobby.”
“Terrance’s work really catches the eye of our visitors and draws them in,” Kahnke adds. “People take selfies in front of it and ask questions about it. It’s such a beautiful addition to our lobby.”
Kahnke says the staff wants visitors to understand what made Ali the greatest, and that hopefully some of that will translate to their lives.
“When visitors go through the exhibit, it provides inspiration to find greatness within themselves,” Kahnke says. “They ask how they can make the world a better place. When they see this piece of art, they can ask, ‘What is the Superman inside of me?’”
Mason, who spent his childhood idolizing Ali, always strove to be the greatest at something himself.
“I’ll never call myself the greatest like he did,” Mason says. “I have, however, pulled off my greatest accomplishment as an individual by seeing this project all the way to the finish line.”
The Muhammad Ali Center is located at 144 North Sixth Street in Louisville. For more information, call 502-584-9254 or visit alicenter.org. To see more of Mason’s work or to inquire about how to purchase a piece, visit mindofmason.com and filthybristles.com.