Tracy Piper first landed on our radar with her stellar showing at SCOPE during Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 and again at the Select fair in 2014. Besides those two shows, which would be the pinnacle of any number of amazing artist’s careers, Tracy Piper has shown in some of the most stellar venues of modern art in America today. Her style is unmistakable, and undeniably her true passion. Her subjects are bold, in both color and verse. Her scale is fitting for the impact that her pieces have on the collective conscience of her audience.
Tracy Piper’s background is far from the prep-school-hipster who’s been handed everything and creates art as a means to fill their idle time between cashing their trust fund checks (not that there’s anything wrong with that). One of her principal tenets, that JOY must live at the forefront of all her ideas and all her pieces comes from, among other things, her life as a circus performer.
That’s right….Tracy Piper ran away with the circus…not TO the circus, but WITH it….from it, came countless inspired audience members, countless tales of the bizarre, both good and bad, and formative years that cannot possibly be topped by even the craziest sorority prank gone wrong. Tracy Piper is the epitome of Self-Made, and the definition of determined. She has taken herself from showing her work in the bars and clubs of the Bay Area to arguably the Super Bowl of International Art, Art Basel Miami Beach, not to mention other amazing shows throughout the country.
All that, and we’ve only begun scratching the surface of this amazing artist’s life and inspirations. So we figure, who better to tell the rest of the story, than the lady herself…Tracy Piper. We sat down with Tracy to ask her some of the more poignant questions regarding her life, her inspirations, aspirations, and other things in between. So without further adieu, we’d like you to meet her. (I can’t finish without the ultimate of cliche’s…sorry) Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of ALL AGES….(ok, maybe not ALL….Parental Discretion is advised)…
Meet Tracy Piper…
Articentric: Thank you for taking the time to meet you Tracy. If you would, talk a little bit about how you came to realize your talent, and how you decided to make it a profession.
Tracy Piper: Your welcome! It’s my pleasure!
I think talent is an interesting word, because it implies that you sort of woke up one day and was like, ‘Whoa, I’m good at this!’. I went to art school thinking I was going to be a cartoonist and sucked at painting, I hated it. But after 4 years of some stellar teachers and hard work I found that this was a true passion of mine. I knew I wanted to make it a profession because it was something I could do for hours and hours and never be bored. Painting is the ultimate puzzle and at this point I’m hooked.
AiC: You have a fascinating back story which you elude to in your online bio, but can you talk a little bit more about where you’re from, how your childhood and life experiences to date have influenced your art?
TP: I grew up in Oakland, a child of a struggling public school system that had it’s ups and downs. The violence that I was exposed to either peripherally or first hand had a profound effect on me in so much as I decided at a young age that life was too short, and too brutal to do something I didn’t want to do. I was also performing from a young age and I found the physicality and positive feedback from my days in the circus some of my most rewarding experiences. I literally ran away with the circus as a hand balancing contortionist at 17 and said goodbye to a life of normalcy. I got gigs wherever I could and this included sneaking into nightclubs and working the nightlife scene (sorry mom!). I had some legitimate work as well but I’ll tell you, experiencing all that San Francisco nightlife has to offer and being part of it was thrilling. The freaks of the nightlife became my family and through thick and thin we stuck together.
Joy has always been a key element in my work, irreverent, wonderful joy. Life is too serious, too much suffering, and I always want to make people laugh, or feel turned on, or at least smile. I love painting real people that I know and who I have worked with in the industry. I also deal with a lot of sexuality in my paintings and try and be as representative of the demographic that is my community. I think my life experiences up to this date have been a wild ride and I want to curate the best and the brightest to share with my audience.
AiC: I think your use of color and the vibrancy of your palette is absolutely stunning. Talk a bit about your process. What inspires your pieces, what goes into the preparation? Do you let the piece develop as you go? Do you start with an idea and build on it?
TP: Thanks! I am attracted to strong colors that vibrate off of each other, and chaos, definitely chaos. The pieces develop as I go, I usually have an idea in mind but I let my paintings speak to me and I think the journey of pulling out an image from pure mess is what makes my work interesting. I hate white canvas and so every piece starts out with pure color that builds and builds. When I feel a canvas is sufficiently abstract I then start thinking about what I want to say and what image is right for the size and color. My models are fellow performers and friends, at times I have a specific direction and at others I trust their body vocabulary to find the image together.
AiC: Talk about some experiences you’ve had with your shows, or with venues/media who’ve used your pieces. What excites you the most about exhibiting work, what are some interesting experiences you’ve had?
TP: When I first started I was keen on getting my work seen and most of my contacts were still from the nightlife scene. So a lot of my early work was shown at bars and nightclubs. Which to me was fun, it was fine art for the masses, a way to decorate these spaces with the people who worked them. I also used to live paint during events which is an interesting experience indeed. Dealing with limited light, fucked up people and constant distraction is a true challenge for a painter. But I had an amazing teacher in college who sort of showed me the way to making the best out of a bad painting and making each stroke count and so it was good practice.
Now I am much more into the fine art scene and it’s been fascinating. Going to Art Basel in Miami or SCOPE in New York and showing next to some giant artists has been a true pleasure. Finding my work in publications in the background next to a Banksy or something is always fun. I think my work just showed up in a Real Housewives of New York episode. How weird is that?
AiC: Give us a mental tour of your creative environment. Do you work out of a studio? If we were to tour your space, what should we take note of, what might amaze us, what is your favorite part of your space?
TP: I work out of a small room in my house. My paintings barely fit and I’ve got canvases everywhere, some are being prepped for work, some of it is a graveyard of overworked paintings, a lot of it is raw canvas with no place for storage. I am not an organized person so my paint is sort of just crazy piled around and I have a ton of art books laying around. I have a little pomeranian named Noki Dojo and she hangs out with me as I work. Lots of plants, always some tunes going…
What might amaze people is I am a really big nerd, so I’ve got a sick computer setup and an xbox. When I’m waiting for paint to dry I am either working on websites, writing emails for my job in the videogame industry, or playing whatever has just come out. But I think I’m a cool nerd, I think that is a thing now, so I’m proud to say it.
AiC: Can you recall and would you talk about your most recent burst of inspiration? Did it come at an unusual place or time? Do you ever put yourself in a particular situation/environment to try and attract ideas or inspiration?
TP: I’m lucky to be exposed to some of the most creative people in the world, both in the technology industry and the performing arts. On top of that I am privy to some of the wackier and secret sides of San Francisco so I feel like I am constantly in a situation where I am inspired.
My upcoming solo show ‘Forever Young’ is inspired by the city itself. SF is known as never never land and we’ve got peter pan syndrome up the wazooo. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing and so the work sort of celebrates it and at the same time perhaps critiques the idea that we won’t ever grow up. If you are in New York the show opens June 18th at Art Now NY, come say hi and tell me what you think about being forever young.
AiC: Is there one artist/creative talent present or past, that you would love to spend a day with in their studio? Who and Why? What would you talk about?
TP: Gosh, I’ve got art crushes on so many people. But I come from the illustration world so if it had to be one person it would be Andrew Loomis. I have a ton of his books and his technique is ridiculous. Fuck art school, go get his book ‘Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth’ and skip the student loans. I like to imagine I would take a live drawing class with him and learn the mysteries of the universe.
AiC: What is the best way to follow along with your career and find out where you will be exhibiting next (Website, Facebook, etc.)
TP: If you want to see finished works check out my website. If you like watching process I am most active on Instagram. Facebook is a great spot to see where I am showing next etc.