Whether she’s painting brilliant and layered abstract expressionist pieces, or portraying her pop-art sensibility, Elissa Tracy’s use of thick acrylic paints and deep, potent colors, her paintings make a bold and distinct impact, no matter what the subject matter.
Tracy’s painting style is a split between intensely beautiful abstracts and a unique representational take on pop culture and street art. And, after gaining a steady social media following, Tracy is swiftly turning heads in the art world too. Not only does she paint pop culture images, such as characters from the GI Joe series, she’s also been known to dress in the stylings of her fictional, alter ego, The Blonde Baroness, who inspires self self-portrait paintings and attends events like at Comic Con San Diego and New York. Elissa Tracy is Lichtenstein in latex; she's a Catwoman Warhol. This week, JustLuxe caught up with the busy, SoCal-based artist and here’s what she had to say:
You’ve worked in various fields, was your primary goal always to work as an artist?
I knew at a very early age I had a natural talent for art, and have drawn sketches and painted with a great enthusiasm since early childhood.
Do you feel your work as a photographer led you to painting?
My photography technique and painting styles go hand-in-hand. In the medium of photography, light is used and controlled within the composition, just as one would use color and texture to create depth in a painting. When I’m working in photography and representational art I'm trying to capture the essence of someone or something. However, with my abstract paintings I’m pouring a lot of emotions onto the canvas, which seems to really translate and strike a chord with my audiences and buyers.
Was there an “aha” moment when you realized art was your path?
In 2011 I did a surprise painting as a gift for a close friend, and in painting that piece I found something special within me resurface. From that point on my creativity took fire, and I then made a conscious decision to start devoting all my energy to painting. I granted myself a three-year window to pursue this passion/obsession, where I promised myself to abandon any fear or sense of limitations. My art flows through me naturally because I am a born artist. I know this to be true, because my paintings have brought me the most passion, life and creativity.
How would you define your style?
Working straight from raw emotion on large canvases, I would define my abstract work as “emotional space expressionism.” I consider my representational work more as “polished, stylized pop art,” that depicts a clear subject, but has abstract and stylized elements, that make each piece my own. And, lastly, my latest painting passion draws from street art and graffiti. Street art is a visual language like no other, and in my work it allows me to convey a new, very fearless and rebellious tone.
You work in a couple of different areas from abstract to pop art, how do you decide the type of painting when you start a new work?
Ideas and images for new works are constantly coming to mind. Music has a large influence, so often hearing a certain melody or lyric can inspire me at any moment. Or something as simple as a momentary glimpse or passing glance at someone or something can spark an idea or image in my head. My mind works in a very detailed pictographic way; as soon as I become inspired by something, I hold that image in my brain and start building the work from the first moment inspiration hits.
Does your approach depend on the type of painting you’re working on?
Absolutely. Whenever I feel the urge to take on a representational painting, I also feel the need to get to know my subject as best I can, which lends a new level of depth to my work as an artist. For example, before I painted Andy Warhol I got my hands on and read every article I could find about him including reading the Andy Warhol diaries. Then I studied photographs, expressions, facial features, attitude and watched several of his movies, while trying to get a sense of both his image and his essence right. Only when I felt like I understood him on many levels, was I able to begin that larger-than-life painting. Though representational, my pop-art is also very stylized in a way that allows me to bring out and convey the person and persona behind subject. The approach to abstract and graffiti pieces are more about my state of mind. These pieces are truly an expression of my inner self and what I’m feeling or working through in my own life. While those pieces mean very distinct things to me, the bold rawness of them allow every viewer to relate and take on their own personal interpretation.
You’ve painted Warhol, Hendrix and other iconic figures, how do you decide which characters to paint?
Some part of me seems to identify with the concept of the “iconic figure.” While Warhol and Hendrix were clearly two very different artists, what they had in common was their intense followings, as well as deeply private personal lives. However, being so personally reserved did not compel either of them to hide their talents, in fact it was quite the opposite. Warhol and Hendrix were both strongly driven by the need to express themselves and show the world they had something important to share – something that’s very inspiring to me.
You also paint character from G.I. Joe series. Why G.I. Joe?
G.I. Joe is an all-American hero and the ultimate action figure. There is an endless number of strong interesting characters; both good guys and the villains that people can relate to. As an artist, I’m intrigued by the endless possibilities to stylize these 1980's action figures that have truly become pop culture icons.
You not only paint pop characters, you also have an alter ego known as the Blonde Baroness. In fact we’re also told that you’ve been known to show up at Comic Con and other events as the G.I. Joe, Cobra villain character; how did the Blonde Baroness come to be?
I liked her strong sultry femme fatale image from the very moment I saw the Baroness action figure. The original Baroness character has long black hair, made our resemblance uncanny when I was a brunette. I went to Comic Con as my naturally-blonde self, which almost immediately had me coined the "Blonde Baroness” at the event. It's fun to dress up as such a strong, female villainess, and exciting to take on another personality as a form of performance art. To some hardcore G.I. Joe fans and collectors, I’m breaking the rules by showing up as the Baroness with blonde locks, but for me, that’s exactly the kind of ruthless, rule-breaking The Baroness would cook up!
You’ve also painted self-portraits as The Blonde Baroness, where you’re must play the role of both artist and subject. However, you’re not exactly painting yourself, but instead your alter ego. Is there a particular statement you’re making with those images where reality and fantasy are melding?
My self-portraiture of the Blonde Baroness is a way to express myself while manipulating and exploring more of my own inner identity. By nature I am reserved, yet I am also a very strong individual who is not afraid to take risks. I am a risk-taker, but not a gambler, and for me there’s a definite difference. Dressing as the strong Baroness character, and then painting a self-portrait as this her, is like exposing the raw image of certain facets my inner strengths on canvas for all to see. The Blonde Baroness portrait series has an artistic message that doesn’t shy away from inciting visceral reactions and interesting critiques of the artist behind the work, but more than any other any self-portrait in the art world would. The Blonde Baroness painting in particular, is a partially a statement of my second, inner-self, but also it’s partly my desire to indulge in some good, old-fashioned escapism.
Are there any new projects you’re currently working on?
Yes, I am continuing and expanding the G.I. Joe series of paintings. I also have several new stylized iconic images coming up. Also, I have a very exciting series of abstract paintings exploring some new, explosive and unexpected color combinations, all done on very large-scale canvas.
Check out Elissa at her website, http://www.elissatracy.com/.