Traci L. Turner
How/when did you get started in Art?
I was introduced to drawing by my oldest brother when I was young. He was a self-taught artist and did amazing freehand drawings. I thought it was the coolest thing and I wanted to be just like him! One day I asked him to teach me something, and he showed me how to draw bubble letters. Once I figured it out, I kept wanting to draw other things. As I got older, I would doodle here and there. Mostly anime babes and drawings of my friends and crushes (à la Napoleon Dynamite, yes). I never really thought about it as a possible career path or presence in my life until senior year of high school  when my mom suggested going to art school instead of a standard college.
How would you describe your artistic style?
In a nutshell, my style is all about color. I am particularly interested in its expressive and technical qualities, so I like to leave it mostly undisturbed on the surface. My love of color influences the kind of staccato application of the paint which gives the textured, unblended look in my paintings. Only in the last few years has that style begun to stick with me and become a defining trait. It's expressive, it's a little bit abstract, and it's bold. Years ago I picked up the term "broken color" when reading about Impressionist painters, and I think that the phrase aptly describes what I do. One of my friends described my work as deceptive because the bright, bold colors betray the fact that some of the subject matter comes from a vulnerable place.
Where do you draw artistic inspiration?
I'll be the first to say that my approach to my work is self-indulgent, as I'm sure it is for a lot of artists whether they admit it or not. The majority of my work is deeply personal. I'll pull themes or phrases from my journals or from conversations with friends that touch on various aspects of the human experience. To express myself is what motivates me to create, but probably even more than that is to make a substantial emotional connection with the viewer. Perhaps that need to connect comes from the heavy presence of isolation throughout my life, especially since leaving my hometown. There's a vulnerable, humanistic element to my work that I think comes from noticing how many of us either choose to avoid dealing with complex emotions or process them in unhealthy ways. So by choosing to be very open about my struggles and harsh truths, my hope with my work is to provide an opportunity, if only for a moment, for someone to address their truths and allow us to feel less alone in the similarities. The blog on my website is also a great source for understanding some of my work, who I am as a person/artist and for initiating a dialogue. I have to plug hard for it because a lot of artists don't do that extra step and write about their work! So I always invite people to check it out and chime in.
On notable projects:
I have a series that I started about two years ago called "Flyy & Kinky,” and it focused on black women's natural hair. The exhibition that I had for it heightened my awareness of the importance of cultural representation, and it ended up being something that threw me into a whirlwind of attention that I didn't expect. I totally underestimated what a series of art centered on black women, and our hair specifically, would mean in the larger scheme of things. I definitely will be diving back into that series. I also enjoy any portraits that I get to paint, especially my self-portraits. I think I like portraiture because it's an opportunity to present a person to the world, either as they are or as they may want to be seen. Portraits can be intimately collaborative, and I take to heart the fact that someone would entrust me to paint something so personal for them.
What has been the most memorable response(s) to your work?
There have been a couple of people so far who have negatively criticized my work, and I love that. It stands out because I find it amusing and weird! It doesn't hurt my feelings at all. I think I just don't care enough about what they think to bother me. I'm going to lump my answer for the most memorable positive response into anytime someone has personally expressed a strong emotional or intellectual reaction or attachment to anything I've painted or written. There are many things that I think and feel in those moments, but for now, I'll just say that those moments affirm what I'm trying to do as an artist.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as an artist?
Recently I've been dealing with feeling like I'm spinning my wheels a little bit. It seems like I'm doing everything "right" career-wise. I do think that my work is good and has something to offer, but I haven't yet figured out how to get all the elements to click for me to be at the "next level." I've done very well locally, but figuring out the right method(s) for me to expand beyond that has been tough. I suppose that I don't expect to be super famous or live solely off of my work yet, but it'd be nice to figure out how to get closer to that. It's very tempting to try to change my work or hop onto a trend to try to garner attention or go viral or something like that, but I know that it's not sustainable. I'd like to think that people follow my work because they can sense something deeper there. I don't know if I haven't caught a bigger stride because the time hasn't come yet, I lack the luck factor, or if my work just isn't good enough for whatever reason. The questions and uncertainties surrounding that have been killing me lately. I just hope that it's a temporary setback. Another thing I struggle with sometimes is being a black artist who doesn't necessarily make "black art."
Who is your favorite artist?
Damn, it's tough to name just one! I'll list a few contemporaries at least, in no particular order:
I love Gerhard Richter. Based off of some of the things that I've read about him, he seems to have such an intelligent approach to his work. The color and textures he achieves in his abstracts leave me spellbound.
Kehinde Wiley is a fantastic black male portrait artist. I read once that many people consider portraiture a dead art form because at this point there isn't much room to do anything "new" with it, but I think that Kehinde is an artist that has been able to elevate the genre and further its relevancy.
I also have to name Françoise Nielly because her color sensibilities and paint application is just magnificent.
On upcoming projects:
Right now I don't have any immediate upcoming shows, which is great. For the last few years I've been making artwork solely for exhibitions, and I felt like I had to say something different with each show. Unfortunately, that left me feeling a bit unfocused and burned out. Now I have time to create work on my terms and continue to fine-tune my mission as a creative. I also get to experiment a little bit with different materials and scale. I want to go back and add to a few series that I started, such as my human heart series and natural hair series because I think there's still a lot of potential with some of that. There is a series that I want to start that would be portraits of my friends and other important people/influences in my life. I would also love to get some commissions. Other than that, I'm turning my attentions to revamping and building my online presence to gain more exposure and to maximize my opportunities for acquiring future work. One of those efforts includes an idea for a YouTube series that I keep playing within my mind. Despite any uncertainties I feel, I do acknowledge and appreciate that I'm in a good place creatively right now.
What is your dream project?
This is a timely question! Honestly, I think that's something that I need to redefine at this point in my art life. I don't task myself with "thinking big" or dreaming too often. Usually, I just prefer to think more localized than that. For so long, just making the work, putting myself out there and staying sharp was the "dream" and I'm living that now, which is an amazing thing to be able to say. As great as that is, it's still a very broad goal. I think the next step for me is to narrow my vision and figure out what else makes me happy and motivated within that wide net. Straight off the dome, I'd say that a dream project would be to have a fruitful and accessible art blog that would be a resource for emerging and aspiring artists, or anyone who is an art lover. I like the idea of being a kind of curator that can inform, encourage and motivate newer generations of creatives in an entertaining way. I'd also love for it to be a project that allowed me to travel around to various events so I could write about them and connect with other artists and professionals in-person. I started a blog sort of like that a few years ago when I was living near DC, but writing about others' work made me realize that I wanted to give myself a chance at being a professional artist first. So the project fell by the wayside after a while. I do have plans to pick it up again eventually, but I need to clean it up and nail down a plan I can stick with. It's very out of date now, but if anyone wants to check it out, it's a blog called Purple Paintbrush (apurplepaintbrush.com).
What motto or affirmation do you live your life by?
"Do you, boo. F**k the rest!"
Maybe it's because I'm so fiercely self-reliant (perhaps to a fault), or because I've been living life solo for the past seven years, but I'm a firm proponent of getting right with the Self above everything else. I just think that a lot of the shit we face in life could be avoided when a person knows who they are, is truly comfortable with it, and is committed to protecting it. Too often do we seek or expect external validations that are ephemeral and fickle.