Fantastically Surreal: The Art of Tracy Tomko
When I first laid eyes upon Tracy Tomko's artwork, I was immediately engaged by its homage to the surreal with her depiction of Daliesque backgrounds, the irradescent color palette, and how much her spare yet otherworldly approach reminded me of the animated sci-fi cult classic Fantastic Planet. Needless to say, it was love at first sight. After further exploration of her paintings I realized that beneath the radiant hues and minimal landscapes there was a deliciously twisted intellect at play uniquely her own. Take for instance Tracy's painting Jibbly Vink Lorp?: a translucent blue child sits atop a lavendar mountain goat while gripping her Rainbow Bright toy against a desolate blue background. At first one might describe the piece as innocent or even cute, but a closer look instilled me with a sense of mistrust and even fear. Something wasn't right. Then it hit me: it was a trap! These seemingly harmless objects were being used to bait mindless travellers into a world of sin and darkness--the devil at work.
As one of the participating artists in Industrial Squid's upcoming group show I Believe in Unicorns at WWA gallery, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about Tracy and her artwork and what makes her 'tick'.
PC: When hearing about the theme for I Believe in Unicorns, what was your initial reaction?
TT: Spontaneous happy-dancing.
PC: Do you believe in unicorns?
TT: Yes. My knowledge of unicorns before being invited to participate in this show was all silly, girly, sparkly stuff. When I started talking about the show, in Denver, I was invited to visit Dana Cain's unicorn tapestry library. It turns out that she is somewhat of an expert on the subject. I was indisputably convinced of their existence through reference materials passed on by her. They seem to have been carved into things and written about extensively since the beginning of time. Unicorns are even in the bible.
PC: Tell me about your childhood. Were you the kind of kid who created private little worlds? What made you happiest as a girl?
TT: I was the oldest of seven kids. I had imaginary friends, kept and still carry too many lucky, little things in my pockets, made a lot of forts, and would dig little ravines with cave dwellings in the walls for my friend and brothers to play with Star Wars figures in. The lucky, little things made me happiest. I loved little bottles. My aunt would save medicine bottles for me, and my Grandpa would bring home those little, plastic garbage cans, that had candy in them, from the factory he worked at. I would fill them with pretty colored paper that I ripped into confetti and keep some in my pockets. I hated pants without pockets.
PC: Was anyone else in your family an artist and did they encouraged your artistic talent?
TT: My mom painted while I was growing up and let me paint my first oil painting when I was very young. She sewed and crocheted, as well. My dad worked with wood a lot, can fix anything, and worked as a precision machinist professionally. He once built us a playhouse that was bigger than some apartments I've lived in. They were always making something. I have a lot of creative aunts and uncles, and my Grandma would work all year making gifts for her many grandchildren. Handmade by Grandma Kline was always special, and I admired her greatly.
I have always been a bit of a nerd, so I think the family may have hoped that I would pursue my academics more seriously to become a scientist or something, but they supported my art. They kept me in supplies and bought me comics and art books for inspiration.
PC: Your paintings often portray floating images with a Daliesque background, what do you think sparked your fascination with the surreal?
TT: I do a lot of research and love to read. I'm really interested in how things grow, stages of metamorphosis, and evolution. One of the most interesting things to me is the theory of the missing link suggesting that out of a need or desire for something, it just became that. A grand and magical manifestation happened. I like to think that the next wondrous evolution is in process and growing from the collective thoughts of our time. That my contribution to that will be the intention and concentration that happen while I'm creating. The paintings and sculptures are the physical sharing with the now, but that the greater manifestation is still to come in another form. The surreal feel to my work might be these thoughts. I paint things that exist in nature with a twist toward a new, beautiful place.
PC: I love the use of color in your work. The luminous quality of greens, blues, and purples help translate the surreal fantasy world depicted in your paintings. How do you choose your color palette?
TT: I like to try to reflect the feeling of my subjects through color. I'm amazed at the colors that exist in nature and enjoy exploiting them on the canvas. For Unicorns, it was all about the pink.
PC: I see a lot of similarities with your art and the 1973 animated film, 'Fantastic Planet' based on the french novel LA Planete Sauvage by Stefan Wul: the color palette, minimal landscapes, and the symbolist artifice of the surrealists placed in two-dimensional space. I love this movie and I know you do as well. How much of it has influenced your work?
TT: I'm a big believer in synchronicity. Things seem to find me when I need them. Fantastic Planet "found me". The Cell is one of my favorite movies for concept and costume design. Jennifer Lopez's character is watching Fantastic Planet, in this film, as she relaxes after a long day. I thought it was interesting looking, but had no idea it was a feature length film or that it was the masterpiece that it is. I never even looked to the credits to find out its name. Then, later I was in a video store and just saw the spine of the DVD with the little, blue face on it. I knew it was J Lo's cartoon and made the purchase. It came into my life at a time when my fascination with plants was really developing and I"m super grateful for it. I'd love to do my own plant art film someday.
PC: Are there any other films that have inspired your work over the years?
TT: So many! To name a few: The Cell, The Dark Crystal, Aeon Flux (animated version), The Happening, Alien, Dark City, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Corpse Bride.
PC: I've read that you created a series of paintings based upon the book, 'The Secret Life of Plants' by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. This book examines the symbiotic relationship between plants and humans and suggests plants are sentient. Has living in Colorado, a state rife with lush foliage and natural beauty, inspired you to explore this idea through painting?
TT: My family is rich with gypsy blood and moved frequently. Colorado is just one of the many beautiful places that have inspired my love of nature. I think that with age I've started to notice the little things and marvel at them more. I took beauty for granted when I was younger.
PC: What other themes would you like to explore through your artwork?
TT: I plan to continue to incorporate the plants into works with dream imagery and memories. Growth will be a strong element in my upcoming work.
I'd like to explore the triumph of embracing ones uniqueness.
PC: Which contemporary artists do you most admire and/or are inspired by?
TT: Lori Earley, Jessica Joslin, Daniel Sprick, H.R. Giger, Greg Simkins, Scott Radke, Naoto Hatori, Lola Gil, Scott Musgrove...this list could go on forever. There is a ton of exciting work being done right now. My immediate art group is the most influential in my daily inspiration/admiration - Erin Asmussen, Stephanie Riekena, Anthony Clarkson. These guys are invaluable for feedback and support.
PC: If I were to spend the day with Tracy, what could I expect?
TT: I'm pretty chill. Stimulating conversation, fresh air, and good food. I'm always up for music, art, or some kind of adventure.
PC: What's the one thing you can't live without?
TT: Good friends and my awesome daughter - we'll count that as one thing. :)
PC: The one thing you can't live with?
PC: What are you creating at the moment?
TT: Paintings with iconic design elements of our time worked into scenery for childhood memories.
PC:What's on the horizon for Tracy?
TT: I plan to be a little hermit-like while I focus to create a kind of magic show effect for my new body of work. Then, I'll reappear with wand in hand. Destination unknown.