When Ken Robidoux approached me with the idea of me taking charge of a new column, an exploration of artisans from around the world and their chosen artistic mediums, I was obviously ecstatic. Of course, with that enthrallment came great anxiety, as I’m a neurotic kind of gal with abundant doubts and silly fears. My newest task was to go and seek out a great artist with unique talents, an artist that could display a fresh take on what art really is-- something whimsical, something fun that exudes true beauty in its countless forms. Naturally, I turned to the human body.
I am not going to shy away from saying that the human body is an art form in itself, and who doesn’t love looking at a naked one?
Warning: Gymnophobics, do not proceed.
I began to more clearly define my main goal and decided to seek out an artist who could take one piece of art and transform it into another. Getting an artist to agree to an interview was my next worry. After a relatively short search, I came across Craig Tracy’s work. I found his incredible gallery chock-full of gorgeously painted bodies, models in complex poses, painted with some of the most intricately designed artwork that I have ever seen. It was a no-brainer that I had to contact him, but I didn’t expect that I’d have such amazing luck in getting a response from one of the most (if not the most) famous body painters in the world.
I browsed through Tracy’s gallery for days upon days taking in the exquisiteness of each piece and how different and beautiful each model and painting was. Tracy rarely uses any Photoshop tools on his photographs, and he gets his desired effects exclusively through lighting and paint 99.9% of the time. Many of his pieces incorporate a backdrop of sorts that he also designs, and often times he finds a way to blend his models seamlessly into the background to make the piece flow organically. The juxtaposition of the body and the canvas allow him to add a multidimensional feel to his work on an already 3-dimensional body. His work is challenging for both Tracy and the models he paints, as they are a vital piece of the practice.
Craig Tracy hails from the culture-heavy city of New Orleans, and that’s where he opened his gallery. It was the first gallery to feature, exclusively, fine-art body painted images. Opening his gallery here was his contribution to the city after Hurricane Katrina changed the face of the city in a drastic way. Tracy’s passion for New Orleans is a great inspiration to his work.
Tracy’s artistic process is definitely worth looking into, and there are several videos that show the step-by-step progression of his complex work.
Tracy’s extraordinary talent is threatened by his degenerative eye disease, one that he’s had since childhood, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his work. His paintings are incredibly precise and beautifully done. They’re perfect. His passion for true art is definitely a driving force behind his incredible craft.
I figured, if I’m going to take on this new column, why not start with a bang? Don’t worry, folks. There are no graphic, sexual images here. All of Tracy’s artwork is in the highest of taste, so don’t be put off by nudity. These pieces are definitely worth seeing. And for those who are curious, Tracy’s models usually find him, so if you feel so inclined, contact him. You might just be the feature in his next brilliant work of art.
Interview with Craig Tracy
Thanks again, Craig, for agreeing to this short interview.
It's my pleasure.
As a fan, I’ve seen a lot of your work predominately featuring women. Do you prefer working with women instead of men?
I'm very guilty of preferring to work on females over males. I'm quite spoiled, you see, and I'd just rather spend my days in the company of women.
Like many artists, your work at times shows a relationship between you and the place you live. For instance, "Passion" seems inspired by life in New Orleans. Considering the struggles New Orleans has been though in recent history, Hurricane Katrina for instance, how do you feel your relationship with New Orleans is currently playing out in your work?
I'm certainly a product of my environment as much as the next person. I'm very fortunate to be from a city that thrives on culture, joy and individuality. I don't feel any limits here. New Orleans is very cosmopolitan and even though it has strong traditions I don't feel restricted to any of them. We are also a Carnival city with our Mardi Gras and that influence is passionately with me daily.
The Lifestyles Ad Campaign involved some truly beautiful, wild work. Have you done other ad campaigns as well?
I did an ad for the city of Las Vegas that was released this past spring in the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Edition. It's a two page spread painted on four models. I rarely do commercial work as I find it to usually be silly or just plain dumb. I want to create work of a more mature nature that people will live with in their homes. The two national campaigns that I did work on were top notch productions with amazing budgets and exposure.
How do different body types inform and influence your work?
So much of my work is about shapes. The shape of the model is often paramount in my work. Finding the right balance and flow between concept, design and form is the game that I play.
I’ve read that you’re never quite sure what to paint until you see the model, which is a bit reminiscent of Michelangelo’s “finding the angel inside the marble.” Have you ever looked at a model and come up dry?
I've been extremely challenged by several individuals but so far I've found something special to paint on each of my many muses.
I’ve noticed that quite a few of your pieces include babies. What are the challenges involved in painting newborns?
The entire process regarding working with babies is challenging and that is one of my greatest desires in working with them. I love the challenges. If I had to pick the greatest challenge I'd have to say that it's that they are completely uncontrollable. I'm primarily at their mercy.
Many of your pieces are quite complex and must take a while to complete. What are the challenges specifically in relation to working with models when you're involved in a complex or intricate piece?
I really need to consider the models comfort and ability to give me the exact pose at the exact time that is necessary to make my work a success. I do everything I can to keep my models comfortable but with certain paintings I know that I'll be asking my model to experience some discomfort. I need to know if they have the right mental attitude to get through it. Communication is key with most of my work and l sometimes I need my models to go that extra mile and really be warrior like.
In certain pieces you seem to be drawing attention to the medium. Your use of color, especially manufactured colors (neon, black-light paint?, etc.), is stunning and vibrant, and certainly sets those pieces apart from the ones that blend seamlessly into the background. What are the different thought processes that come into play to help you to decide to which direction to go on a specific piece?
I've never created a black light painting to date. The images that you think are black light are not and are painted and photographed with traditional color and lighting. I've use a very small amount of Neon color as I don't use and neon lights to make them glow. I have however painted several paintings that mimic the look of a black light and or neon image. As to the medium and its role in my work, I love experimentation and play. I love trying styles and techniques that I don't feel comfortable with. Several of my gallery pieces are finger-paintings. Some are done with sponges and some are done with very limited elements of color and design. I love being free to paint any way that I might want to and not being restricted to a definitive style or expectation. The human form and working with and on its majesty are all that should ever be expected of me.
Body-painting is a very temporary art. Once the model rinses off, the work is lost. How closely do you have to work with a photographer to make sure that what is captured is just right?
My work is just like music or live theater. If the work is recorded properly it should live forever. I now photograph 95% of my work myself but if and when I do use others to capture my work, I control everything. Photography and the people pushing the button on the camera are not the creative element but the conduit for my visions.
What do you see in the future for you and your work?
I'm going to continue to explore and expand the limitless boundaries of this most ancient and alluring art forms and I hope to help it find its way into contemporary homes and galleries within our collective cultures.