By Ashley Whittle Tiedt
Photos by Blair Ramsey
Mary Grace Tracy’s artwork doesn’t seem to fall into any specific category, and there are no art terms that truly represent her style. You can’t call it realism, because the colors she uses won’t allow it, but you can’t call it abstract either, because it’s too real. It’s “artistic realism;” the objects she is painting are real, but she takes artistic liberties with each piece and won’t be confined by colors and brush strokes.
Art is in her blood. As a child she would sit and watch her father paint in their garage, which he used as his art studio. She would spend hours just staring as his brush glided across the canvas, creating unique pieces of art. “He would paint these giant abstract canvases occasionally. I would just pick up a paint brush and join him on the same canvas,” Mary Grace says.
Mary Grace is a product of the Mountain Brook school system and raves about the quality of its art classes. She started to mature in her craft in her early teens, taking the assignments from her talented teachers and putting her own spin on them. This is also about the time she started to create work outside of class.
“I would put together collages. I would cut up pieces of magazines when I liked the color or the imagery. I used scraps of fabric or dried paint chips, then I would combine them in a composition. It was a very messy process, and sometimes I would paint on top of it. Sometimes I would use the collage for inspiration and paint it,” she says.
During her senior year of high school, Mary Grace took an AP art class that she credits with preparing her for a career in art. “You’re creating art in the same way you would in a regular art class, but at the end of the year you put together a portfolio. You mail it off to be reviewed by a committee, who grades you on a one-to-six scale and if you get a certain grade, that class counts as hours toward college credit. It helped me get an idea of what it meant to put together a portfolio and a collection of work,” she says.
Mary Grace took her love of art to college, studying it at Montevallo. This is when she fell in love with landscapes, but if you look at her paintings, you won’t see things exactly the way they are. Mary Grace paints them the way she sees them. She took a class, focusing on painting “en plein air” or “painting in the open air.” The class would meet for seven-to-eight hours outside, where the students would set up their canvas and paint.
“You really had to get confident and loose with your brush strokes, and you couldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to get the image exactly right, so it helped me get a good flow with my painting and get confident,” Mary Grace says. This class inspired her use of colors that you wouldn’t normally see in landscapes: the trees would be red, the leaves were blue and sometimes, the rocks were purple. Mary Grace’s landscapes have a way of transporting you from reality to an enchanted land inside her head.
After graduating from art school, Mary Grace hit a bit of a creative wall. No longer receiving prompts on what to paint, she found herself in unfamiliar territory. She worked retail for a bit before taking a job in a ceramic store. Mary Grace joined the making team at the production pottery studio and worked her way up to lead that team. “I was using the knowledge I gained in college to make money, and I was like, ‘wow this is a dream scenario.’ I worked there for so long, I never didn’t enjoy working there,” she says.
While she loved working in pottery, Mary Grace never felt like she had enough time to paint. Her job at the ceramics shop was physically demanding, and when she returned home from work, she was tired and uninspired. She had a strong desire to go back to her roots and create.
This summer, Mary Grace left her fulltime job and health insurance to take a part time job as an art handler. Here, she hangs pieces in galleries, packs artwork or ships it to a buyer. Occasionally, she is able to travel with the art and makes sure it arrives safely to its destination.
Now, Mary Grace is back, working in her studio when she is finished working with others’ art. She credits this new job with providing new inspirations for her work. She is back to cutting images out of magazines and compiling them into something unique that she can paint with her favorite bright colors. Additionally, she is exploring photography.
“I need to get my camera out and start taking my own pictures, so I can inspire myself. I really want to own the process from start to finish,” she says.
So, how does Mary Grace get started? It starts with research, looking through magazines and social media. If she sees something she likes on social media, she’ll reach out to the photographer and request permission to paint it. “If something inspires me, I’m going to paint it,” she says.
Currently, her medium is oil paint on canvas. Her inspiration consists of vintage fashion, florals and intriguing imagery. Mary Grace is feeling inspired again and spending significant time in her studio. She says one of the hardest things as an artist is to decide when something is truly finished. Her paintings consist of five or six layers of paint, and she spends roughly 20 hours on a single painting, but that does count the time when she is meticulously looking over the piece of art to determine what else is needed.
Enthusiasts and connoisseurs are encouraged to follow Mary Grace’s Instagram @MaryGraceTracy for a taste of her own twist on artistic realism.
Mary Grace has worked with Blankspace Bham to paint murals around the city, too. Take a drive around Birmingham to view some of her best masterpieces.
Buy from Mary Grace Tracy
Art lovers are encouraged to visit marygracetracy.com to buy art or commission a painting. Mary Grace is planning to show her artwork at galleries soon. Visit her website for information on dates and times.