This winter, Artemizia hosted a solo exhibition called ‘Object of Desire’ with Tucson-based contemporary feminist artist Tracy Brown.
Shortly after the show, we had the chance to sit down with Tracy and talk about her process, how feminism and media representation impacts her work, and why she believes teaching has been an important part of improving her knowledge and skills as an artist.
Tracy Brown stands next to ‘Stripes and Eyeballs,’ an original piece acquired by the museum from her show ‘Object of Desire’ at Gallery 818.
If you were to describe your work to someone who is unfamiliar with you, what would your "elevator speech" be?
I am interested in bringing attention to the underrepresentation of female artists within the art world, major galleries, collections and historic texts. I also use my art to push back against the repetitive toxic imagery and messaging found within advertisements, movies, magazines and visual culture in general. I have struggled with an eating disorder and anxiety for the majority of my life. I began altering fashion magazines to express the dark side of beauty and as a way to process the shame, isolation and anger I felt.
Acrylic on Canvas
How does being an art teacher impact your own work?
First I want to clarify, I think of myself as a teaching artist.
I find that identifying that way keeps me committed to why I went into teaching in the first place. I am an artist who also teaches. It helps me to know that I will never stop being an artist first and that I am committed to both careers. I became a teacher because of my passion for creating, sharing, and passing this passion on to my students.
One of my favorite ways that teaching impacts my work is through connection and service.
The relationship I am able to build with many of my students is something that makes me feel useful and needed in a way that solely creating art does not fulfill. It’s rewarding to watch my students build their skills and confidence and to watch their artistic voice emerge. Being around young people also helps me feel more connected to what’s going on in the world, and it renews my energy to be around them.
I don’t have kids, and part of that was due to my commitment to art, deep desire for independence, and until recently, never being emotionally or physically healthy enough to find the right partner. Teaching is the closest I might ever get to that kind of role in life. I always want to treat my students with kindness and I hope that they find my classroom is a safe place to be themselves for an hour everyday. Teaching has taught me a lot about life and being a better human being. I hope that people can see that at the root of my art is a call for us to all be better to each other.
Altered Histories Series
What are some important parts of your creation process and approach to painting that people should know about?
Years after coping with an eating disorder, I started altering fashion magazines to express the dark side of beauty and the negative effects that images and messages found in our visual culture have on the female psyche.
In particular, the work of writer and documentarian Jean Kilbourne heavily influenced work. There’s a quote by her from Can’t Buy My Love that especially resonates with me:
“Magazines and ads deliberately create and intensify anxiety about weight because it is so profitable. On a deeper level, however, they reflect cultural concerns and conflicts about women's power. Real freedom for women would change the very basis of our male-dominated society. It is not surprising that many men (and women, to be sure) fear this.”
Before getting professional help, this practice and studying feminism saved my life. I continued to use art as a purge and release of toxic imagery and messages and of the unfair way women continue to be treated in this world.
Eventually, this exploration spilled into altering historic text and imagery of “great male artists.” I wanted to bring attention to the underrepresentation of women throughout art history.
What is your relationship like with your art now that it’s out in the world? How are people receiving it?
When I was younger I loathed talking about my art but now, I’ve grown to become much more comfortable with it.
When I participate in exhibitions and pop ups, I get a lot of comments ranging from:
“This is Bonkers!” (My personal favorite)
It’s funny because I don’t mind the comments and they are usually said with genuine openness, light hearted laughter and the curiosity of a child. When I tell them what my art is about there is usually a big, “Ooh wow!”
It’s like the moment you see that light bulb go on in a student's mind that inspires you to keep teaching. When people “get” my art, I find it incredibly satisfying and it motivates me to get it out there more.
Tracy with ‘Abuse of Power Will Fail’ in the museum’s Mural Labyrinth, which is part of her Altered Histories series. In this series, she uses her own painting style to bring female empowerment to subjects in historical pieces that were created by male artists.
Artemizia has a few of your pieces in our collection, including ‘Abuse of Power Will Fail’ in the Mural Labyrinth. Would you be able to describe this piece and its significance?
Historically, the achievement of women in the arts have been greatly underrepresented. In art history books and museums, women are far more likely to be the nude subject of a work of art rather than creator. Women continue the struggle for inclusion in major museums, galleries, and collections. Appearing as sexual objects of desire and consumption throughout our visual culture, subconscious bias and behaviors are formed which hold women back.
In my Altered Histories piece “Abuse of Power Will Fail", I employ methods learned in therapy to rewrite a mental story in order to bring empowerment and healing into a traumatic experience. In this piece, I put clothing on the women in Ruben’s, “Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus” and give them super-powers to fight back against their rapists.
Visitors can enjoy Tracy’s work in Artemizia’s permanent collection which is located at the museum in historic Bisbee, Arizona.
More information about Tracy: