Interview with Artist Tracy Paul
What is your medium and why did you choose it?
I cut, grind, forge, and weld metals into sculptures and functional pieces such as gates and furniture. I like the range of workable processes with metal and the ability to change and correct along the process from start to finish. For example, I may start a shaman garden sculpture and mid project realize that the height is not balanced. I can reduce the height by cutting out a section or
increase the height by adding a section and
that change will not be known in the final sculpture. Although rigid, metal can take on many shapes. My college degrees are in chemistry and physics so I delight in the chemical and physical alteration of the
metal surface. For any given sculpture this may include grinding, sandblasting, heating, and most frequently the application of chemical agents to react with the metal surface. Traditional copper sheets can be oxidized and treated to create beautiful blue green coatings. Steel is oxidized in to warm brown red tones. I love working with metal because it lends itself well to the subjects that I am interested in: desert plants and animals.
How long have you been making art?
I’ve been doing art for more than 50 years. When I was little my parents focused my abundant energy into art and crafts. My earliest memories include sitting with my dad sketching. I was allowed to draw and paint on my bedroom walls. I spent many days after school and in the summer at our local artisan workroom where I learned stained glass, print making, batik, painting, fabric arts, and ceramics. I have been welding metal sculptures for 22 years. Prior to welding I was making wooden furniture and wooden art objects.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I am inspired by Nature: the plants (Aloe in Bloom, Blue Aloe, Beloved Comet, Kinequus) and animals (The Rematch, RoadRacer, Sunflower with Wren) that surround my desert home and by my lifelong devotion to the Lutheran Christian tradition (Ascension, St. Francis). My work is often a blend of nature and spirit (Morning Prayer, Reunion of Saints). Other artists’ works of art and other artists themselves often strike an idea within my own mind. I Am Raven was inspired by Kirby Sattler’s I Am Crow. Sattler manifests the essence of crow spirit through acrylic paint on canvas. My work brings the essence of raven to form in metal (I Am Raven). I used iconic items associated with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in my raven series called Hey! …. (Hey!) I am inspired by the books that I read. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist became my sculpture, The Alchemist (The Alchemist) Coyote Places the Stars (Coyote Places the Stars) is a twist on the traditional Navajo folklore that explains how the stars in the night sky came into being.
What does your studio look like?
My studio is outdoors and has views of Spur Cross Preservation area and Black Mountain in Carefree. I work under a 16 ft x 22ft cover. A small shed house my MIG welder, plasma cutter, oxy-acetylene tanks and a variety of tools and my favorite picture of my dad. I have two metal work benches and a treasured Craftsman Vise and an anvil near the tables. One table is tall and I generally weld on that one and the other is shorter which I use for grinding and cutting. I have raw stock of metal is a semi-organized array around my studio and in a separate shed. Metal birds and a tortoise and a small collection of song birds look over my work as it progresses. Half completed projects wait on the periphery of the workstations. A metal
owl sits in the rafters and a hawk perches on
the exterior roof. My new addition is
12ft x 16ft of indoor, lighted and cooled
space that will house my new CNC plasma
cutter, computing station, and my fused glass
work station. It seems there is never enough
room for arts and crafts!
What is your favorite time of day to make art?
I’m a “morning person”, which, for welding, is advantageous in Arizona’s summers. The work is strenuous, especially when I’m working on my large garden sculptures or hand forging metal, so an early start when I’m strong and energized is imperative. I generally do my fused glass work in the evening. In this way the furnace is running through the night at low utility costs and I awake to uncover the fused product.
Do you listen to music or have complete silence when you work?
Serious ear protection is essential when welding given the recurrent loud noise of cutting and grinding metal. I mix up my hearing protocol. On Mondays I generally use ear buds to listen to the sermon of a favorite Christian pastor in Los Angeles. I love to read and sitting down with a good book is a luxury to me, but given my time
constraints I often listen to Audible recording, again through my ear buds, while I’m welding. The books range from nonfiction to autobiographical to science and literature lectures. I’m currently listening to In My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I often listen to TED Talks. If I’m designing, I’m generally not listening to anything external as I want to hear my own inner voice. If I’m “in process” and cutting or grinding, I’m usually listening to a book or to music. I love The Piano Guys, a fusion of classical and modern music played on piano and cello. I also listen to Elton John and Queen and a variety of classic Rock N Roll and contemporary music.
Describe your creative process.
I rarely design or sketch work prior to actually pulling the raw stock metal. Sometimes the shape of a piece of metal will tell me what the sculpture subject is. My first step is to pull as much of the raw stock that a project will require and get it cut down into manageable pieces. This might include steel tubing in round, square, or rectangular shapes, sheet stock of either hot (blackened) or cold rolled steel, solid rod, or ornate iron in a variety of shapes. The copper that I use is in sheet and wire form. After collecting and cutting the metal into rough pieces, I draw the designs and then final cut with a plasma cutter or oxy acetylene torch. I might cut a piece, hammer, shape, grind and finish the piece and complete the welding, or I might cut out all of the pieces, grind all of the pieces, and then MIG weld all of the work. Invariably it is necessary to cut additional or new pieces to come up with the final sculpture so I’m not really following an exact plan or recipe. I’m working upon the previous step, whatever that may be. A lot of my recent work has a more complicated texture than previous work. I like using the grinder to change the surface texture and color as it creates depth and dimension in the metal. The sculpture evolves over these steps and I just keep working until a switch inside of me stops the work and I know it’s complete. After the sculpture is assembled, I turn to the finishing processes. This might be doing nothing at all…. leaving marker lines and al in place. It might be sandblasting or acid etching the metal to a pristine surface. On occasion I use enamel paints and powder coat, but for the most part I like to use acids and bases to bring up metal colors on the steel surface. A light sealant of clear acrylic is the final step but that I really just to keep the metal clean while it’s being transported. Once in place, the weather should take over and continue to alter the surface over time. Ornaments on the sculptures are attached at the end and are a mix of natural stone and metal or fused glass.
What else would you like people to know about your art?
I believe that my talent and strength to work metal into fun or visually pleasing forms is a gift from God and as such should be given away, just as the gift was given to me. I donate a lot of art to a variety of organizations, including Foothills Food Bank, Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center, Southwest Wildlife Conservation, Maricopa County Animal Shelter, Border Collie Rescue and Club 56 (A Lutheran youth organization). I love being surrounded by art and living in a thriving art community. I am active in the Sonoran Art’s League education program which promotes the arts and art education in our local schools by providing instruction, teacher support, exhibition opportunities, and scholarship money. Promoting art in our neighborhoods and communities improves the quality of our experience and our existence. Best phrased by Picasso, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”.