Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tracy Spadafora: Westborough, Mass.

 LYNETTE HAGGARD'S ARTIST INTERVIEW SERIES 

Tracy Spadafora

1. Please share a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what (if any) were any early influences on your work? Where do you live now?

I grew up in Windsor, Connecticut, near Hartford. A quiet child, I use to escape the noise and commotion of my large family by going to my room to draw.  I was a visual learner, loved art, and I was fortunate to be encouraged by my family and teachers from an early age.  We didn’t have any artists in our family but my mother has always been a creative person with many artistic talents, such as sewing and cooking.  I always remember her doing some craft project at home, making gifts for someone, or for a church fundraiser, and I was always eager to join in.  My mother inspired us to use our imagination and be creative.

My brothers and sisters and I always had the best school projects and homemade Halloween costumes!  My parents, like their Italian parents, were also avid gardeners.  My father had a huge vegetable garden that fed our entire family of eight throughout the year.  I didn’t appreciate this when I was young and had to help plant the beans, weed the flowerbeds, or pick the tomatoes, but this experience helped to inspire a life long love of nature and the environment, which is reflected in the current themes in my artwork.  I currently live in Westborough, Mass., in Worcester county, about 45 minutes outside of Boston.


Vestige (Part 5), 2012
encaustic & mixed media on braced wood boxes
15 x 24 x 3 inches

2. Did you receive any formal art training? If yes where and what did you major in?

I focused in art from grade school to high school and won several prizes and awards along the way. There was no question I would study art in college.
I chose Boston University because it had a more traditional art school with a strong foundations program, as well as a variety of liberal arts courses.  I was also fortunate enough to receive a generous scholarship.

As a painting major at BU, I took 12 hours of drawing classes a week for four years.  We were also required to take a painting techniques class, which covered traditional techniques as fresco, egg tempera, and encaustic.  It was in 1987 that I had my first basic introduction to the encaustic technique from David Aronson, student of Karl Zerbe, who started the art school at Boston University and headed the painting department at the time. I remember mixing dry pigment into beeswax directly onto a hot plate. There was no resin, no ventilation, no heat guns, no irons and none of the mixed-media techniques that are commonly used today. My first brief experiment with encaustic was incredibly cumbersome and not very successful!

I graduated from Boston University in 1989 with a BFA in painting and a minor in art history. I waited tables for years while doing freelance photography and graphic design. After four years working various jobs in the field, I decided that commercial art would not be the best career choice for me, so I decided to go back to school for an MFA in painting, mainly to get the credentials to teach on a college level. I went to the State University of New York at New Paltz partly because of its beautiful setting in the Hudson Valley and its close access to NYC.

I had the opportunity to work with some wonderful faculty at SUNY New Paltz, who challenged me to develop the themes in my work, and to be a critical thinker about art. While in graduate school I visited R&F Handmade Paints, which was near the college. I met Richard Frumess, who offered me a job as paint maker. I started to play with encaustic paint and converted to “encausticism” soon there after! Working for R&F ended up being just as much of an education to me as graduate school. In addition to being a paint maker, I was involved in setting up the very first encaustic workshops at R&F back in 1996. Although I moved back to Boston in 1997 and started teaching encaustic on my own, I came back to teach workshops at R&F for several years. Richard and my former R&F colleagues remain friends and continue to offer their generosity and support to this day.


Vestige (Part 4), 2012
encaustic, transfer, collage
on braced wood boxes
14 x 10 x 3 inches

3. What is your current work about? 

I have worked with themes exploring the relationship of man and nature for at least 15 years.  In my “Persistence of Nature” series, I incorporated schematic maps of the “big dig” artery project in Boston as a base on which to layer organic imagery. The interaction of the plants, flowers, and trees with the underlying man-made environments was my playful way to address the issue of urban sprawl. As I worked on these paintings for a period of 10 years other environmental concerns became reflected in my work in the themes of natural disasters and man-made hazards.  It is with these topics in mind that I started my current body of work, the “DNA” series.

In this series I specifically address issues of concern — among them, global warming and genetic food modification. These paintings and box constructions start with DNA sequences as a base. The sequences are intriguing to me because they provide both visual patterning and symbolic reference. The sequences of letters represent one universal meaning, the building blocks of life, yet each DNA string is completely unique and mysterious. Although I often use specific DNA codes that have a relationship to the images I layer on top, the significance is not in the actual codes themselves. The paintings are built on visual and symbolic associations and the layering and preserving of these images in wax helps to address a complex and shifting relationship between man, his biological roots, and the shaping of our natural environment.


Vestige (Part 2), 2012
encaustic, transfer, collage
on braced wood boxes,
14 x 10 x 3 inches


4. What is your workspace like? 

After 13 years working in a factory studio space at Vernon Street Studios in Somerville, Mass., I moved my studio to Westborough about six months ago to be closer to home. I now commute a mile to my studio instead of an hour!  I share a three-room office suite (turned into a studio space) with Out of Line Studio for Art & Design, an open-studio art center, where I currently teach encaustic workshops and youth art classes. Teaching art classes in town has been a great way for me to generate more work for myself, be involved in my local community, and spend more time with my six year old daughter, Sophia, who loves art and takes my classes.


The Game (Part 2), 2012
encaustic, collage, transfer, oil 
on braced wood panel, 
48 x 42 inches
5.  Are you involved with any arts groups or communities? If yes, what do you gain from that affiliation and what do you contribute to it?

I am part of the Luminous Landscape group, an encaustic group with members throughout the US, and have enjoyed exhibiting with them over the past few years.  I also belong to a few online art groups through social websites, but my participation is often limited due to time constraints.  Other than that, I don’t belong to any art groups at this time.  I find that teaching and making my artwork doesn’t leave much spare time, and whatever time I do have is devoted to my daughter and her activities.  However, I am very lucky that my job teaching art gives me a wonderful community.  Through teaching workshops and classes I have had the privilege of working with many interesting and talented people over the years; many who have become close friends.  I also have many long-time artist friends and colleagues that I can dialogue with.  And the International Encaustic Conference has connected me, gratefully, to yet another whole community of gifted, dedicated artists and teachers.


Fallen Idols, 2012 
encaustic, collage, transfer, oil
on braced wood panel, 24 x 24 inches

6.  How do you develop a sense of community with other artists, and how do you support your art colleagues?

I develop my sense of community though interaction with other creative people. Because I went to school in Boston and have lived in the general area for so long, I have made many connections with people through teaching, exhibiting, and volunteering in the community.

I support my colleagues by attending their exhibitions and events whenever possible.  I cherish my personal interaction with artist friends.  There is nothing better than going to see an art exhibit together and talking shop.

What Goes Around, 2012
encaustic, transfer, oil
on braced wood panel

16 x 16 inches

7. Do you have other jobs other than making art? If so, please give us some details.

I started teaching art in 1995 while I was in graduate school and I have never stopped. I have never held a full time teaching job, but I have taught at a few colleges over the years and I am currently an adjunct instructor at Quincy College where I have been teaching for 11 years. I have also taught adult education and youth classes at the Danforth Museum, DeCordova Museum, and Worcester Art Museum, for many years. I have given demonstrations and workshops in the encaustic painting technique at museums, art centers, and colleges throughout the north east for the past 15 years. Although it has been very difficult at times to make a living teaching art, especially free-lance, I am certain it is my purpose and consider myself very fortunate to continue the work I love. I am also lucky for the support and encouragement of my husband, John, who keeps the roof over our heads!

You can see more of Tracy's work on her website.

Thank-you very much, Tracy!