World Art #9 - February 1996

1,000 Words

Tracey McLaren is a painter. I don't know how long she's been one. I don't know if she had any training or where she had it if she did. And I don't particularly care.

Tracey McLaren tells you everything you need to know about her with a paintbrush. Oh! I forgot to mention the most important part. The Plot.

This is a love story. Her paintings are thick imagery, symbols of the most basic kind, as in the collective un-consciousness. Alright sub-consciousness. Symbols of Sex. Addiction. Wealth. Love. Betrayal. Huge canvases of naked confession. And, unlike many painters who write on their work, with Tracey you get the feeling that with no one else to talk to, she talks to her canvas. Confesses. One think I do know about her: The telephone is her alternative implement of destruction.

Her tone is conversational. "Come back to my house and watch beautiful, beautiful Elvis Presley movies." And "I skipped the part about love." The paint's going on in huge sweeps and splashes of color as if she just can't get it down fast enough, as if the words just won't stop coming. And among the large canvases is some kind of shorthand compressed version. Hundreds of tiny squares of color and words. Gold. Orange. Yellow. Hastily written love notes:

"I Wept"; "Grace me with your presence."
Lust: "Swarthy, unshaven and dark."
Betrayal: "Not this little black duck."

Old lovers reduced to fine print. A kaleidoscope of broken-mirror conversation. All the rejections, the hurt, the desires and the grand occasions when love really does turn into something far greater than you had ever dreamed of, something autoluminescent. It's all here, all there among the cocktail glasses, kind or cruel hearts, crucifixes and crowns. The state of grace. But without a trace of any mock-gothic-melo-drama.

This is Tracey McLaren looking for a way out, a way in, away from here. All wrapped up in a cartoon, post-expressionistic, Louis Quatorze-type diary. And like all truly great True Confessers, she knows just how funny heartbreak can be.

Look, I don't wanna do this. I write songs, not critical diatribes on Real Art. I don't wanna meet Tracy McLaren in Big Mouth. No one's gonna believe my story anyway. Look! I wanna kill this typewriter dead. Send six starry dum-dum bullets into it's clicketty-clacketty heart, punching big black holes through all that responsibility. No one was supposed to ask me to do this!

So I met her at Big Mouth. Clutching my junior-reporter kit in a brown paper bag I went to meet the maker. The saint of paint. Jesus-Christ-in-Hell. She looks like she could break me over her knee like the bundle of twigs that I am. A spike of light, straight from the sun, bounces off her eyes and comes rushing at me, pinning me like a startled deer in the on-coming headlights of extreme pain. This is the vanishing point. I sit down. Forget-me-not.

(Big Mouth. The sound of a hundred pairs of knives and forks skitter 'round the ceiling. There sit painter and hack reporter. Tracey McLaren and the other one. He's pulling bits and pieces froma brown paper bag, nervously fumbling with microphones, cassettes, etc.)

Hack Reporter: How do you do it?
Tracey McLaren: (Leaning forward) Do it?
RH: (Leaning back) This painting scam. How do you pull it off?
TMc: "?"
RH: I mean, it's obviously some kind of spontaneous explosion of artistic intent. (Pretty good. Show no mercy.)
TMc: Nooo..... (Regards hack like some sick bug.)
RH: No?
TMc: No. There's months and months and months of thought. An elimination, an intuitive elimination. Sifting through my thoughts... writing some down... finding a phrase and an image and.... RH: And then?
TMc: (Points the first two fingers of her right hand and with a cocked thumb says) Bang. Bang. Bang. (Smoke drifts from her upraised finger.) These symbols have a very strong personal meaning for me and these meanings are enhanced rather than weakened by repetition.
RH: So obsession is a good thing?
TMc: Those symbols have become a personal language, a visual shorthand.
RH: So then change is important?
TMc: Of course. But change doesn't mean inventing a new style every season.... One thing builds on another - it's a slow organic thing.
RH: Organic almost.
TMc: Isn't that what I just said? Did I not just say the same thing? (Fixing him with a kind of aggressive despair.)
RH: (With flourish.) How do you feel folk perceive your work? (Not bad. Not bad. Keep her on the ropes.)
TMc: Well I overheard people at my last show saying 'Whoever did these paintings really hates the opposite sex.' What kind of weird perception was that? (Drains coffee cup and slams it onto table top.)
RH: What do you think of the old Tom Wolfe Painted Word schtick?
TMc: Well I feel in two minds.
RH: (Oh very useful. Most illuminating. What do I have to do, spoon-feed you? God, I'm getting desperate now. This is not how it was supposed to go.)
(The sounds of traffic rise up obliterating several minutes of brilliant, incisive overacting.)
TMc: (Climbing above the surge.) I get a lot of feedback from songwriters who seem to relate to the text in my work and I think approach their own work from a similar viewpoint or something.
RH: Well there is alot of pop culture apparent in your daubs.
TMc: When it works, it should communicate on a really basic emotional level...
RH: Like a good song or movie...
TMc: Exactly. That's what it's all about.
(The hack gets up. Shovels his tape recorder into its brown paper sack. He pauses a moment, then picks the whole mess up in his hands and makes to leave.)
RH: Oh, by the way, three great things? (The eye twinkles, the eye through which she regards the world, art, then the canvas.)
TMc: The full moon, the oceans, and Tony Joe White.

- Rowland S. Howard