In the six years that Portland artist Tracie Broughton has been a fine art painter, the prolific painter has embarked on ambitious projects with a distinctive style suggesting a much longer career. Broughton is a graphic designer by trade whose murals and lifelike canvases evoke a joyful liveliness in both form and substance. The photographic quality of her paintings—from her effervescent divers to her gracefully buoyant pachyderms—is arresting. In her swimmer and elephant series, her subjects are painted from an underwater perspective, bathed in bubbles and movement, as if caught by the lens of a deep sea diver. These moments of grace and joyful abandon evoke the kind of emotion in the viewer that only an experienced artist can muster. We can surely expect more from Broughton in the years to come—that is, when she isn't busy teaching afterschool art classes and looking for gallery representation.
Source Weekly: I love your paintings of the Portland cityscape. Have you been inspired to paint anything in the Bend landscape?
Tracie Broughton: As a matter of fact when I moved to Oregon in 1994 I hadn't been painting at all since college. The job that brought me here (Jostens Yearbook Publishing representative) required lots of driving throughout the state, and it was one of those first trips to beautiful Central Oregon and Bend that inspired me to start painting; so here I am 20 years later finally in full swing. With luck I'll do some plein air painting around Bend this summer.
SW: Your paintings are so vibrant and lifelike—do you favor acrylics for the unmuted quality they can give to a canvas? How did you develop this style?
TB: I do love acrylics for their drying speed. I often start with a very dark canvas and build up from the deepest shadows. Acrylics allow me to introduce new color quickly without it being affected too much by what's underneath. Painting with oils, on the other hand, is a luxurious experience, which I enjoy as well. One out of six paintings I'll start with acrylics and, if the painting calls for it, finish with oils. My style has been slow to evolve and, perhaps, still under construction. The good news about that is not feeling tied to expectations. The challenge is trying to be recognized while being free to paint whatever I want.
SW: Your swimmer and elephant series are studies of movement and gravity/buoyancy. Why are you drawn to painting objects suspended in water? On a side note, these paintings seem so technically difficult!
TB: My first figure in water was a cannonball diver which was titled "Brave Joy." I painted it to celebrate that wonderful moment of letting go and doing something for the sheer fun of it, even if it requires great courage. The face of the figure was obscured as it was an inner-self-portrait. That's how my business name became Cannonball Art. Aside from that I've always enjoyed watery topics.
You're right, painting figures in water is tricky but it's also really fun. The subjects are uplifting, and the underwater environment of refracted and reflected light with skewed color and low gravity excites my eye and keeps me interested long enough to actually finish and then some.
SW: Can you tell me about how your experiences working as a teaching artist have shaped your process as a painter?
TB: Teaching always helps you understand something that you already know just a little bit better, and it helps me consider what's important about my process. Mostly it makes me feel extremely grateful for the opportunities I had to learn art in school, and to see myself as an artist from a young age and for the rest of my life whether I make art every day or not.
SW: What are you working on right now?
TB: One large cannonball diver, which should be ready to put on the wall at Bishop's Barbershop next week; two small, very traditional, still lifes that look nothing like anything else I paint; a big cityscape of the Montgomery Park building in Portland, a dog portrait, and a big swimming elephant, with some drawings underway for a painting of old time orchard workers in Hood River.
Broughton's work can be found online at traciebroughton.blogspot.com, and will appear on the cover next issue, and at Bishops throughout the month of May, as the Source's artist-of-the-month.