Tracey Adams – Mindful Inversions: New Encaustic Paintings and Scrolls

Artwork by Tracey Adams

Exhibited from September 5 2009 – November 29 2009

Artist's Vision

Tracey Adams approaches her artwork using vision, mathematics and music. Central to this work is the concept of synesthesia, a fusion and orchestration of various art forms and sensory experiences, whereby one visual or aural sense is involuntarily stimulated by another. For example, in addition to calling upon a range of techniques and disciplines, Adams sees specific colors when hearing certain musical passages; this enhances the tone of her work and gives it depth.

The phenomenon of synesthesia is integrated with her mindful practice and willingness to explore all aspects of perception and perspective. According to ancient Indian Vedic precepts basic attributes of mindfulness encompass the states and experiences of the body, mind, and emotions. When our internal senses come into contact with our external senses and are in alignment, the resulting synthesis balances us and “all seems right in our world.” On a recent visit to Adams’ studio, I saw and experienced the visual/aural manifestation of this as I watched her working on one of the pieces for this exhibition. As she calmly ran blocks of pigment-embedded wax across the surface of a hot box, she became very quiet. Her face took on a tranquil, attentive look. She did not appear to try to force or anticipate the outcome, but rather seemed completely present in a moment of joyful activity. While watching her, I noticed the play of light falling upon her work table, I heard in my head the questioning and answering passages of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.

Origin of Work

Adams’ simple gestures originate from complex performances and represent a synthesis and schemata of life and art. Fully realized art is not just about aesthetics, it combines impulses of feeling, skill and vision. The implications of her artwork derive from autobiography and a willingness to share herself. What is implicit in the way her art has evolved is her desire to become less controlling, more loose and spontaneous in both her art and in her life. Paradoxically, as her visual narrative becomes more mysterious, her personal narrative becomes more transparent.

Whereas the Revolution series, the body of work created prior to this one, grew out of Adams’ interest in patterns and geometry and clearly demonstrates a tightly organized structure, this current series of paintings and scrolls is the natural progression of going to the next step: learning to blend the planned with the improvised. The impulse towards patterns and geometric shapes continues, but is less apparent here. Looking back at the pieces in the Revolution series, one can see the circles as precursors to more amorphic, more organic shapes of this new work. In Revolution 39 and 50, for example, one sees the artist’s interest in inversion of space-the circles both recede and advance, sink in and float out simultaneously. In Revolution 46, the edges of the circles have become blurred and less defined. But now, with this new body of work, it is all out in the open, a fully realized inversion; the circles have turned inside out and in the conversion, have puddled beyond their more constrained, defined shapes.

New Series

This new series is a clear expression of the desire Adams has to be both spontaneous and in control. She glides back and forth in the slippery place of being in command of her actions but not trying to control the outcome of every gesture, of being mindful and achieving no mind. She seeks to abdicate conscious thought so she can free herself of preconceived perceptions and expectations. She wants to approach each new art piece as a blank slate with the trust that her learned practice and muscle memory will not fail her. As Adams’ recently said, “We all have our life battles.” Her tug-of-war is played out in the pull between her highly organized mind and her very emotional heart.


Adams connects her art practice and her understanding of mathematics with her previous musical career-she was a musician, composer and conductor. So it is natural that we find within her work a logical, mathematical construct. Rather than stay static or safe, however, she chooses to turn things inside out. In mathematics, inversion is the process of transforming points. An inverse point has a polar reciprocal, and, as found in inversion geometry, every point on the inside goes outside; every point on the outside goes inside. Inversion effectively turns the circle inside out. In musical theory, she explains, one can invert chords, melodies, voices and intervals, and as in geometric applications, the perspective changes.The paintings and scrolls seen in this exhibition and publication represent her new way of working with encaustic and a revisiting of a method of inversion and variation she learned thirty years ago in an undergraduate-level art class. At that time, her teacher observed that Adams was too attached to her previous drawings, causing her to struggle with her creative process. She suggested that Adams use large rolls of Japanese paper rolling them up immediately after completing each drawing. Hiding away the results enabled her to start fresh each time. At the end of the session, she looked over each drawing and evaluated each one in the context of the whole body of work.

Continuous Connection

Another way we see the connection of inversion in Adams’ work is in her ritual of applying layers of marks and paint on the surface of her work. After she applies and fuses multiple layers of paint to the panel, she scumbles, scratches, and scrapes it so that previous strata are revealed. The piece then becomes an archaeologically rich site, whereby the hidden under-layer becomes evident and the surface becomes somewhat obscured.

There is within Adams’ work an affinity with ancient Asian art. An obvious connection is the use of the scroll format; another correlation is found in the complex visual strategies of both physically and symbolically hiding and revealing layers of history. In ancient, traditional Chinese art, the symbolic visual and written language of the artwork was often obscured for political reasons. The scroll’s content could be rolled up and revealed inch-by-inch to trusted viewers, and its portability meant that the scroll could be hidden away completely. Adams, though, uses the scroll format inversely: rolling as she goes hiding each new drawing from herself. Having covered the surface of an entire roll, she unfurls the whole scroll at once, reviews all its sections and selects passages she feels will fit into the vision of her next piece. She then cuts out the desired fragments and incorporates them into the context of a larger work; typically, the Japanese paper and encaustic drawing is then mounted on a paint-prepared wooden panel. She unifies the paper and panel with additional charcoal marks or with brush-applied paint.

Abstract Beauty

The genius of artists like Adams is found in an ability to conceive and produce the abstract concept of beauty. We all know that it is not easy to cite direct sources of creativity, but when I asked her if she would name at least one departure point of her ideas, she replied without losing a beat, “Hypnagogia.” This term defines the space between unconsciousness and consciousness; where one is not completely asleep nor completely awake and the mind is so relaxed as to be deeply receptive to creative thought. Within this meta-space of consciousness, dream and real worlds are inverted, aligned and integrated. Here, the work of Tracey Adams assumes meaning and life.

Every time Tracey Adams climbs the stairs to her studio, she brings with her the components of what makes her work continually relevant, unique and fresh. Her on-going quest for balance and harmony leads to daily physical and meditation practice and results in work that has depth and calmness. Her facility to synthesize the visual and aural is demonstrated by a structured and organized mind with an ability to grasp esoteric intellectual ideas. And, her warm heart allows her to suspend judgment, even when standing before a piece of art that is not working-yet. .

Tracey Adamspng

Meet the Artist

Tracey Adams

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