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10 Questions for Tracey Physioc Brockett

A portfolio of Tracey Physioc Brockett's "Daily Tangles" series can be seen here or in our Winter 2017 issue, Vol. 58, Issue 4.

Tell us about one of the first pieces you created.
I have been painting and drawing my whole life, though I was banned from finger-painting in kindergarten, because it was all I wanted to do. I came from an artistic family, and was always encouraged, though it was made clear to me that it was not a career path that I should take seriously.

What artist(s) or works have influenced you?
I gravitate to abstraction that has an emotional component. There are so many amazing artists living and dead who have influenced me but I remember most the works that suggest some awkwardness, some human complication.

What other professions have you worked in?
Being an artist is sometimes really isolating and I never thought that that was all I should do. I am not terribly social, and I think I was afraid that I would end up a hermit. I wanted to be in the community, and working one on one, something a bit out of my comfort level, and something that clearly benefitted others. So I have done home visits for elder care for thirty years, and also worked for hospice, and I still do parttime. I love history and storytelling, and I have met some wonderful people and heard some amazing stories over the years.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I thought I might be a writer, but I always called myself an artist in my mind, even if I never said it out loud. I was a history major in college but had no clear idea of what I would do with my degree. I always knew that I wanted to be able to think for myself, and be creative, and that it might be a long time before I found my place in the world.

What inspired you to create these pieces?
I have a fairly regular practice of making a small drawing a day, especially when I am working out a new material, or feeling blocked, or working out a particularly complicated larger painting. They are approached like a play session, begun with gesture, which is how I start all my work. It is risk taking on a small scale, a game to see just how awkward, or complicated or ill-advised I can be before trying to rescue the piece. There are no rules. Sometimes the reconciliation is astonishing to me. How did I get here? I am not looking for anything in particular, but trying to pay attention to clues along the way, pattern, order, connections. After so many years, the works have arranged themselves into several themes. A year ago I started calling this collection “daily tangles”, and titling them by the day they were created. Gesture, the work of the hand, is like automatic writing. I paint to find out things, and this is my language. Because so much of what is happening out in the world goes into the gesture of any particular day, and because I don’t edit much they sometimes end up much more personal, a kind of visual diary.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your art?
I grew up in Canada, and my elementary school had hanging many reproductions of Canadian artists like Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, all landscapes of Canadian wilderness. I spent time in some of the places where they painted. They were my childhood idea of Utopia. I love traveling, and visiting cities, but even as a child in Toronto, I wanted to live in a forest.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the artistic process?
My taste is very eclectic. Sometimes it helps with a sticky place in a painting to be listening and paying attention to music rather than obsessing with a problem. I am really obsessive and will listen to a complicated piece over and over. I studied music seriously and I can’t help but analyze it when listening, so structure is important. I love early music and music of any genre that speaks to the sacred or mysterious. And there is some popular music that I just dance to, if the energy is good. The space of dance often shows up in my work.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to create?
I try to keep a fairly regular structure to my day. It is good to get up and go into the studio before the world makes its claims on you. Work feeds work; sometimes it is all I can manage to sit quietly and look, but that is an active thing, not passive. Everything is fuel for the studio.

If you could work in another form what would it be?
I used to write a lot of poetry, and am working on a novel- memoir hybrid thingy I jokingly call my breakout book. I write in my journal every morning, and have for more than 40 years. Writing uses a different part of my brain and it clarifies things I can’t make sense of visually. It is mysterious really. I love to write, but painting is the most complicated thing I have ever done, and I am addicted to complications.

What are you working on currently?
I have been working on a series I call The Sagas, large scaled paintings that are a kind of abstraction of the emotions brought up by fairy tales and other cultural references. I am really interested in the problem of being human, what we chose to tell, and how we pass our stories on.

TRACEY PHYSIOC BROCKETT studied at the University of Toronto, received a BA from Mount Holyoke College, and continued her studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She has been in residence at the Vermont Studio Center and the Cummington Community for the Arts; has received Massachusetts Arts Lottery grants; and was recently awarded the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Individual Artist Grant

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