Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tracy Tomko is SuperKickAss!

It is a mysteriously wonderful treat to gaze upon a grouping of Tracy Tomko paintings. Each painting is an open field, dreamscapes with characters, biological beings, color, music, and the inquisitive and adventuresome child taking a part in these landscapes.

Tracy and I recently had a conversation covering themes in her work like memory and music, as well as goats, seeing-eye ponies, and reincarnation.

Rob Faucette: What is a favorite artist/painting that has influenced you?

Tracy Tomko: Hieronymus Bosch is my all-time favorite.

RF: Do you make sketches for a painting, or do you just start painting?

TT: My paintings are pretty planned out. I do sketches and some collage to layout images. There are surprises that happen along the way, if I set one aside for a while before it’s finished.

RF: You’ve spoken before about memory. What is the difference, to you, between a memory and a dream? Meaning: when you remember a dream, and when you have a memory of something that actually happened to you, do you think there’s a difference?

TT: That makes me feel a little dizzy! You’re right. “Life IS but a dream.” In my art, I’m fascinated with the idea of how memories, of waking or sleeping moments, become so laced with passing time and nostalgia that they are forever altered without you knowing. I have spoken with friends and family that remember things entirely differently than I do. Someone may even have a photo proving the morphing that has happened and become my reality of the dream. Sometimes I will take a photo and let the nostalgia wash over me. Then, I work at altering the image to help the viewer to feel what that moment has become for me. I spend so much time doing that, that I wonder what my memories will look like in the future.

RF: I think that is the root of a memory, actually: it’s not a fact, but the story as you remember it through time, and with each retelling (or remembrance) details are lost or embellished to suit your own needs: nostalgia, storytelling, etc, so in a way you are preserving memory like a scientist by marking it down?

TT: Yes! That’s fun. A mad scientist embellishing events, like a magic show across time.

RF: What is your favorite memory, or one of them? I have one that is like a snapshot video in my mind that I witnessed when I lived in Vermont. There was a pond and during the winter, we blew off all the snow and put fresh water on it for a smooth skating surface. We had a winter party one night and got a bunch of hockey sticks and pucks, but we all learned pretty quickly how dangerous it was to be whacking pucks around in the dark.

I had gone up to the house to fetch a fresh bottle of whiskey for everyone, and when I came back outside, I saw that everyone had fetched their Mag Light (those big metal flash lights) from their cars and trucks, and they were just whacking them around on the ice, so all these beams of light were shooting everywhere. From the distance, in the dark, looking on that scene and hearing the laughter and the lights through the moonless trees and star-filled night, it was just kind of perfect.

TT: That’s a great one! I lived in Maine when I was young. My dad would turn our backyard into a rink for us. Spray some water – instant rink!

I have one of getting to know a co-worker on the job. She would talk all day, while we were working, about really weird nonsense. I thought she was crazy for months because of the things she would say. One day she’s telling me all about seeing-eye ponies. (like the dogs that lead the blind, only little ponies) She goes so far as to tell me someone in her family breeds and trains them, and all day I’m having these crazy visuals of how nuts her family might be. I leave work and am telling friends about this girl’s “story of the day”, and we are rolling in laughter. Then, later something prompts me to Google it. Turns out, seeing-eye ponies are REAL! Much more laughter! We worked that job together for a little over a year and every day was an adventure. That’s the stuff that life-long friendships are built on. I need to paint those ponies leading everyone around.

RF: What is it about music that is important to you?

TT: Music is such a perfect art form. I wish people could be driving in their car and my art would move them to spontaneously feel as if they are in love, or energized in a way that makes them want to seize the day, or be moved to tears at the thought of someone they are missing, the way that a song can. Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To the End of Love” lyrics are how I started to paint violins:

“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ‘til I’m gathered safely in…”

These lyrics are one of the most beautiful things ever written, in my opinion. I feel like painting musical instruments encourages the viewer to strain to hear the music in the painting. It’s a visual song I’d play to them and to the environment.

RF: I see that as well in the headphones in a literal sense, but also the strong colors in each of your paintings remind me of notes and major or minor keys…like other-worldly pop songs or what one sees on hallucinogens while listening to music, the way a certain song or note can not only call up a color but also a memory, to bring it back around…

TT: Or a smell! Scratch and sniff music! I hope the colors ARE singing to people.

The painting with the headphones, is called “Grow Tones”. Those are actually protective ear gear blocking the sound out. The song in that story is transforming the growth of the plant life, and I didn’t want it to mutate the little girl. I love thinking about music mutating life into new forms.

I like to paint in bright colors and playful images that feel like the wonder of a child.

RF: I see goats pop up from time to time in your paintings...

TT: The goat might be my spirit animal. If I see one, I think something crazy and surprising is going to happen. I may have been a goat in my last life and there are pieces of my goat soul that carried over. Frolicking is one of my favorite hobbies.

RF: Do you believe in reincarnation? What is your aim for the next life?

TT: I’m not ruling any possibilities out, yet. If I get to choose, I would live on another planet in a less concrete form – some sort of alien shape shifter would be awesome.

--Tracy Tomko in conversation with Rob Faucette, January 13, 2011.

Tracy’s work will be part of the 5 person show, SuperKickAss, on view at WWA gallery curated by Industrial Squid, from January 21st until February 19th, 2011. For a preview of the show, go to and click on the link.

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