by Rachel Perry
Readers of Our Brown County recognize James Tracy's
name from the magazine's creatively illustrated covers. The fine
arts world was reminded in June that illustrations and graphic
design are not Mr. Tracy's only pursuits. At the twenty-second
annual Indiana Heritage Arts juried exhibition, all three of
Mr. Tracy's submitted oil paintings were accepted and received
His winning landscapes included "Along Salt Creek,"
a monochromatic snowy winter creek scene; "In the Pines,"
a back-lit design using silhouetted pine trees; and "A Quiet
Time," depicting roof tops in Nashville. The latter painting
is a view from Mr. Tracy's studio on the top floor of Nashville's
Village Green building.
At first glance, the paintings of James Tracy appear to be
peaceful scenes of familiar places, rendered with great technical
expertise. Upon closer examination, the light and shadows in
the scenes convey a melancholy mood reminiscent of works by Andrew
Wyeth. The familiar and the recognizable both appear in a new
light and become mysteriously transformed.
After creating abstract collages in high school and being
encouraged by Columbus art teacher Carl McKann, Mr. Tracy became
interested in Salvador Dali's surreal style of exploring the
world of the unconscious. Several paintings on Mr. Tracy's studio
walls reflect his earlier emphasis. "I used to do things
that were based on total imagination. . . . You know how artists
often want to do a series of the four seasons. I wanted to combine
the four seasons with four self-portraits," he said, indicating
a painting of overlapping images.
After experimenting with surrealism he got more into realism.
Mr. Tracy explains, "But I don't want to do normal landscapesI
like to have a certain amount of mystery in my paintings."
Unlike many realist artists, James Tracy uses a combination
of real subjects and his imagination. "I think of a scene
that inspires me and then go looking for similar scenes to photograph,"
he reveals. "Sometimes I dream paintings."
"I don't really have a system [for painting]," he
says. "I know a lot of artists do that but I don't want
my paintings to be systematic in any way. I want each one to
be a discovery."
Although he has used oil paint exclusively for the past ten
years, his medium as well as his message, is subject to change.
"I'm not sure oils are really my thing," Mr. Tracy
remarked. "I'm thinking about getting into watercolors."
He tends to use many thin layers of paint to achieve his desired
effect. "I use paint thinner and drying oils because I want
the paint to dry faster."
Although born in Nashville, James Tracy has lived and worked
in other places. He moved to Albuquerque in the late 1980's where
he attended art classes at the University of New Mexico. He then
moved to Los Angeles where he sought employment. "I had
three different jobs when I was out there" he laughed. The
first job was creating huge wall-size background paintings. "They
were rented out for commercial backgrounds. It was the hardest
work I've ever done because these things weigh hundreds of pounds.
People [potential clients] would come to look at the murals and
we would bring them out, lay them on the floor and unroll them.
Then the person would say, `Nah, let's see the other one again.'
"Then I got a job as a display artist for Tower Records.
It was kind of fun. . . . After that I worked as a T-shirt artist
in the garment district. It was like being in a third world country.
Then I decided, `I hate all this smog,' so I returned to Indiana
University to finish my fine arts degree."
Employed by Accurate Graphic Industries for the past eight
years, Mr. Tracy now designs graphics for imprinted and embroidered
sportswear lines. He has recently deepened his Brown County roots
by purchasing ten acres on Gilmore Ridge where he plans to build
Mr. Tracy spends about twenty hours per week painting. "Since
I make a living from graphic design, it cuts into my painting
time and I haven't really entered that many shows," he explains.
His paintings are selling, however, and do well when entered
in competitions. "The Joy Farm," another Brown County
scene, won "Best Traditional Painting in any Media"
in the 1997 Hoosier Salon.
In the tradition of many early Brown County artists, James
Tracy pursues his creative potential through fine art while making
his living as an illustrator and graphic designer. His solid
background and experience in all aspects of art serve to enhance
the magic of his realism.
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