Before Iʼve even had a chance to slide the door closed behind me, fully entering Tracy Thomasonʼs Brooklyn studio, sheʼs carting a massive rectangular canvas, glowing green and peach, across the room. Her small feet shuffle beneath its bulk, the scene evoking an abstracted Incredible Hulk, mid-transformation. Sheʼs speaking of transparency, “the layers that are happening,” when the canvas appears behind a zebra-print cloth with cut-outs, the backdrop as skin, cleavage, “the nature of revealing something through making and abstraction.”
Animal references abound in Thomasonʼs work along with humanityʼs more animalistic tendencies. She was drawn to the zebra fabric because of its similarity to some of Georgia OʼKeeffeʼs abstracted flower paintings. The cutout pieces represent the areas of the pattern that most resemble mustaches or vaginas, she explains.
Thomasonʼs paintings, sculpture, and combined pieces (three-dimensional “accessories” attached to two-dimensional surfaces) stir an impulse to touch, try on, wrap oneself up inside the history of her chosen (often donated and/or recycled) materials, evoking sunny afternoons spent rifling through a rack of threadbare jeans and faded leather jackets at a thrift store, a faint pencil mark waiting to be brushed away like a stray hair off a loverʼs shoulder. Actual hair drapes from abstract canvases like a lowered false eyelash or Amish-style beard. A chunk of alabaster glows with the embarrassed blush of expertly applied rouge. Splotches of hair gel blot a stretched canvas like sex. A felted and dyed yoga mat is infused with a sense of abandoned (or repurposed) idealism. Simply put, her pieces speak for themselves.
Alas, an essay requires words. A logical place to find them might be her media lists, which read like a found poem: Hand-felted and dyed wool, deconstructed leather gloves, and oil and tears on wood. Acrylic, paper clay, chalk pastel, clairvoyance, eye shadow, and collaged canvas on canvas. LA Looks hair gel, oil, and temperance on canvas.
The art resonates even without these small revelations of the artistʼs process and intent. But with them, it radiates—intangibles, implication, and conventional materials combine to form a transparent layer of emotion and mystery: Is temperance a play on words, an admixture of tempera and permanence? Or is it in reference to the restraint of the work, its sobriety?
Blue Shift, with its muted horizon, a field of blue above beige, stained with globs of hair gel (flexible hold), resembles a Rorschach test. If you stare long enough, a face comes into view, or a coffee-stained treasure map. The gelʼs gassy, sporty, overpowering scent requires that Thomason act quickly, and its liquidity necessitates working on the ground, Pollock-style. “I just squirt it on; itʼs like a quick cum shot,” she says, inhaling hesitant laughter, then explaining, “I use that for lack of a better term.” Her statement, and near-retraction, speak to overtly sexual gestures that permeate her pieces, as well as the overarching hum of modesty-cum-temperance that provides their quiet beauty.
Blue Shiftʼs sister, Rocky Spine, has a curved ridge of raised white beads down her center, like an arched back or pearl necklace. Other feminine references, a hair flip, comb, hand mirror, and pony emerge from the acrylic and eye shadow like illustrations from a 1950s childrenʼs book about sugar and spice and everything nice. In an earlier piece, Copper Mine, our eyes are invited down a rectangular shaft of increasingly copper-toned canvas, its wrinkles and imperfections blasted with a healthy dose of spray tanner. Thereʼs a feeling of transformation, of waking up to Joan Riversʼs voice peddling leg makeup on a late-night infomercial.
Stormy Leather, a more recent piece, also speaks directly to transformation and conflicting desires to reveal and cover up, desire itself versus virtue. A bare stretcher frame is draped and wrapped with hand-felted and dyed wool and a deconstructed pink leather glove, resembling fiberglass insulation, a wallʼs guts and inner-workings exposed. It is in conversation with the artist that I learn of the feltʼs former life as a yoga mat. The gloves were a gift from a friend, an attempted dye job gone wrong. As a whole, the piece recognizes the beauty in failure, frames it, and puts it on display.