Ancient portraits find new homes in Tracy Greenwalt’s ‘Stone Town’

Tracy Greenwalt established her artistic vision early on, when she found a box of old family photographs as a child. She became obsessed with photos, an interest that Greenwalt eventually combined with her lifelong love of drawing as she browsed local antique malls for photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then used the images as inspiration for his illustrations.

“I love to take old photographs and give them a story by adding my own weird iconography,” said Greenwalt, who often had to put his passion project aside instead of contract illustration work. “It’s so difficult to be independent and constantly trying to send your stuff. I wanted to go back and do what I always wanted to do.

When the opportunity arose to show his work at the Studios on High Gallery in the Short North, Greenwalt seized the opportunity, setting aside his freelance work to focus on creating multimedia portraits for the new exhibition “Stone City, ”shown at Studios on High through August 5.

"Johnny Buttles Lofty Purchase" (mixed media) by Tracy Greenwalt

For this new series, Greenwalt needed more inspiration from the past, but the artist said she had “cleaned up all the antique malls around” looking for interesting faces. Instead, while working amid the pandemic, she found an online treasure trove of century-old images from a Washington, DC photographer in the National Archives.

“There are thousands and thousands and thousands of old photographs that are free to use. I actually went through all of them, ”she said. “I’m going to sit down and watch them, and they’ll tell me a story.” If I watch them long enough, they will start to say things.

In one photograph, a gentleman with a finely waxed mustache was wearing a top hat and a large, thick coat. To Greenwalt he appeared to be a wealthy traveler inclined to cross oceans. Typically, Greenwalt starts her pieces in watercolors, then adds oil pastels, and when she began to illustrate the well-to-do man with the mustache, she painted half of him in faded blue tones and the other half in sepia brown. The contrast was like the magnetic poles, which led to a ship in the background and the subtle outline of an iceberg atop the man’s hat. She titled the play “Bipolar Expeditionist”.

Greenwalt’s evocative pieces can be weird, playful, or both. In another image titled “Intercepted Transmissions,” a little girl reminded Greenwalt of Princess Leia from “Star Wars,” prompting the artist to give the painting a planetary theme, with an Imperial Walker hidden among a stand of trees. .

“I don’t mind telling the stories [behind the pieces], but I also like that people come up with their own interpretation. … They are all very personal, but when I talk to people they find something there that they can relate to, ”said Greenwalt. “I guess it’s my way of communicating with people and communicating how I feel.”

Greenwalt imagines all of these characters from the past as inhabitants of the imaginary world of Stone City, a name that popped up on one of Greenwalt’s walks through Ohio as she contemplated the name and meaning of the village of Lithopolis. The nickname also plays into the idea of ​​a cemetery, that is, a city full of tombstones, populated by people from the past. “Stone City,” then, is Greenwalt’s way of making connections to the past – “finding the similarity in each of us through time,” she said.

"Our mothers have secrets" (mixed media) by Tracy Greenwalt

Initially, Greenwalt had more ambitious plans for “Stone City,” with overlapping print stories for each character and multimedia displays. But COVID threw a hitch in the plans. “The past year has been incredibly hard for me. I also lost my mom so it was really hard to focus, ”said Greenwalt. “I realized, ‘This won’t happen’. ”

But even without the bells and whistles, admiring the paintings of “Stone City” is a captivating experience, with the pieces rewarding patient viewers with built-in clues and whimsical stories. The creative process has also been rewarding for Greenwalt, as she has learned to embrace a new way of working outside of her freelance projects, which often require careful attention to detail, especially in her wildlife illustrations for the Resource Division. natural areas of Ohio. “I made a whole series of fish for [ODNR]. You had to count the thorns of the fish. You have to get the right scale and everything has to be right, ”she said.

“Stone City”, on the other hand, was an exercise in not thinking too much. “I was forced to let go of my preconceptions,” Greenwalt said. “I always plan things out, but I like it best when I’m happy with what my gut tells me, no matter how silly it sounds.”

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