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How They See - Issue #25: Tracey Adams on music, art and the meaning of success


How They See

December 19 · Issue #25 · View online

How They See will allow you to meet artists from all over the globe and understand their perception of art.

Published irregularly.

In the last issue of How They See this year, I would like to present my discussion with Tracey Adams. She is an artist based in the USA, California and made me really curious about the process and the technique.
Tracey Adams uses in her works encaustic and wax was, a technique which for me still looks a little exotic. I must say, I love the end effect one can achieve. Tracey definitively mastered the process, however, it is a composition and her voice that makes her paintings unique and beautiful.
You can learn more about Tracey Adams on her website or Instagram.

Dear readers and artists,
This is the last issue of How They See in this rough year, which apparently seems to be like a never-ending March. I am taking a short break to unwind, rest and come back early in 2021 with full strength to work on a few ideas for this newsletter. As well as more inspiration and other perspectives on art. 
I would like to thank you for your support: reading my interviews, conversations and writing down answers for my questions, and all the kind words I have received to this very day. 
Take care & stay safe.
How They See will come back on the 9th of January 2021.
You have over 35 years of artistic work and over 175 solo and group exhibitions behind you. What is the most vivid memory from your journey with art?
In 2015, I was awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. The events that led to receiving the award make for a long story, but I used the award money to create a site-specific Installation, Primordial Soup, at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art in 2016-2017. This became a collaborative project between a Chemistry professor at UC Santa Cruz, a sculptor, Virginia Folkestad, who I had previously collaborated with, and myself. We spent months in our own studios experimenting with materials, making tons of unusable objects and paintings and generally being very uncomfortable with how things were progressing. When we finally met for the week-long installation of our project, slowly things started to come together and, on the final day, I realized this was the most difficult yet exciting thing I had ever created. 
What has changed for you over all those years? In terms of art and being the artist of course.
When I was in high school and an undergraduate, I painted figuratively and mostly landscapes. I’m not sure why I was painting, but I knew I enjoyed the feel of the paint and surface, the sensuality of it. I loved being alone getting lost in the process of making art. My life at home was not happy and drawing and painting provided enormous satisfaction. As I got older, I began to realize that art was a mirror of my life and that became a powerful thing. My work started to reflect my music studies, especially line work, as I began to develop my own style.
Tracey Adams, Kintsugi, encaustic, collage and japanese papers on panel, 45" x 45", 2019
Tracey Adams, Kintsugi, encaustic, collage and japanese papers on panel, 45" x 45", 2019
You have MM degree from New England Conservatory of Music. I started to wonder what is the role of music in your art.
I studied piano and composition as an undergraduate and conducting as a graduate student. Music has and will always be an important part of my life. While I no longer actively perform, there are many ways music presents in my art. Printmaking is a very physical process, involving movement of the arms and torso while wielding large sheets or rolls of paper, much like conducting. The mark making in all of my work, lines and shapes, etc. are correspond to a rise/fall or tension/release as in music. The elements of music, specifically tempo and rhythm are translatable to art and lately I’ve become more focused on the use of negative space in my work. In music, that can be equated with silence, rests or a fermata. Music is always playing in my studio as it initially helps me slow down and focus in a calm way like meditation. 
You have once said: “I was limited in what I could achieve in the conducting field as a woman”. Don’t you think that the art domain is also not very inclusive for female artists?
In the 1980’s, it was very challenging to have opportunities to conduct as it was always considered a man’s world. There were things I could accomplish, but most doors were closed to women 40 years ago when I graduated. I think that the art domain is not as inclusive for women as it is for men, however, the big difference is that many gallery owners, dealers and consultants are women. I have had many wonderful opportunities to not only show and sell my work, but to work on special projects like Primordial Soup. Most of these open doors came from women supporting women.
What does success mean to you?
Success does not mean selling my work, although that is a nice and sometimes necessary thing. It means a sense of always learning and stretching the ways in which I work, experimenting and making mistakes and understanding that is the only way my work will get stronger. My work is in museum and other important collections and I have exhibited my work in other countries, all very nice things. I realized during COVID that the personal relationships I’ve made, through wonderfully interesting collaborations, here and abroad, have connected me to other artists in ways I couldn’t have predicted.
What has the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award changed in your artistic life? Do you attach great importance to such achievements?
See comments in the first question. The P-K grant was important, not only in that it provided financial means to create Primordial Soup, but it gave me a bit more credibility as a working artist.
In one of the interviews, you have said: “I’ve been a working artist for 30+ years and know that I’ll never run out of inspiration.” What made you think this way and is this statement still true?
I find myself circling round to several series I’ve worked on during the last thirty years. Each iteration is different because time has passed and experiences have altered how I see and work. I find I use the same shapes and linear structures and that they relate to each other; I enjoy looking at where I’ve been, where I currently am and how I got there.
Tracey Adams, Grist for the Mill, Collage, charcoal, encaustic and ink on panel, 14" x 11", 2020
Tracey Adams, Grist for the Mill, Collage, charcoal, encaustic and ink on panel, 14" x 11", 2020
I must admit that I have first encounter encaustic and wax in your art. What do you find special in this technique?
I love the luminosity and translucency of wax. Because I incorporate collage in my work and because encaustic is layered and fused, encaustic and collage work synergistically. The encaustic process is tactile as is the end result and the ways in which one can incorporate wax are endless.
You also had an episode of using acrylic paints, however, you got back to encaustic. Why do you switch to acrylics and later stopped using them? 
I wasn’t able to achieve the same visual results with acrylic as I am with encaustic. Encaustic has incredible depth, allowing an artist to not only create multiple layers of wax paint, but to carve as one might carve into an intaglio plate. Being a printmaker for many years, the transition to encaustic was not that difficult.
Patterns, grids and rhythm are often presented in your art. Why these elements are important for you?
Without overthinking the question, it is my love and understanding of music as well as where I live on the central coast of California. I “look” at nature constantly during my walks and hikes and can’t help but notice the interconnection. Sometimes grids and patterns provide a grounding for my work and other times, I prefer to work more freely without them. 
I may be wrong, however, I think in recent works you are trying to break away from them. 
Yes, that’s correct. Lately, I’ve been trusting my impulse to work intuitively, to not know where I am going in the studio. I like finding challenges and problems and solving them. Lately my challenge is finding lots of breathing space and not making a mark just because I may be attached to it.
Tracey Adams, On Again, Off Again, Collage, charcoal, ink and encaustic on canvas, 14" x 11", 2020
Tracey Adams, On Again, Off Again, Collage, charcoal, ink and encaustic on canvas, 14" x 11", 2020
How do you find a balance between creating the art important to you vs expectations of galleries or dealers?
The pandemic created an emotional and financial void for so many artists, including myself. I chose to make 45 small collage works on paper (see Instagram posts from earlier in 2020) and I sold them to raise money for our local food bank and a couple of other not-for-profit organizations. I felt the work was strong and I didn’t rely on anyone except myself to make this happen. At the same time, some of my dealers wanted me to send them paintings of circles, a series that has had two iterations during the last twenty years. I am through working this way and find it doesn’t move me forward as an artist so I don’t work that way anymore. 
Does Yoga still play a major role in your life? 
Yes. Many people believe yoga is a set of exercises (asanas) that one does to become fit and flexible. It can be used for that purpose, but it is also a synthesis of mind and body, resulting in harmony or unity within. Yoga is relaxing as it allows release of tension, both emotional and physical. Yogic breathing and yoga help me maintain balance in all aspects of life and shows me the interconnectedness in everything that exists in the world.
Can you give some advice to any self-taught artist or designer?
My best advice is what I have always followed. Look and study as much art as you can, in person if possible, online and in books. Ask yourself what you respond to and why, discover why something is working, or not, in a piece. Do this both in work you like and work you don’t like. It is through constant immersion that you discover your intention as a creative person and why you are an artist/designer. Don’t overthink your process, rather find that sweet balance that allows your work to be fresh, not overworked. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or to be uncomfortable because often the strongest work emerges when there is tension. Make lots of art until you begin to develop a personal and authentic style.
What is your favourite colour?
There are varying opinions of whether black is a shade (absence of light), a colour or a bit of both. While I sometimes use black to shade, I use it mostly as a colour, either by itself or adjacent to another colour. I love the way black sets off and defines a colour in a mysterious and powerful way, something I haven’t found in other colours.
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