One of the most pressing issues that is currently plaguing the country is that of gender violence. Even as India celebrates its 68th Republic Day, 92 women are being raped in the country every day. To highlight the issue and pave the way towards a safe and healthy environment for our women, a few Hyderabadis have been making an active effort. Recently, the city also played host to chalk artist and 3D street painter, Tracy Lee Stum, who was invited by the US Consulate in Hyderabad to make some noise about gender violence.
Tracy, who had also visited Visakhapatnam for an international conference on climate change, shed light on her unique form of painting and addressed a few vital social issues.
“In Vizag, we did a piece on climate change which is relevant because of COP 21, 2015,” informs Tracy about the international meet that she had attended.
Though she visited India to bring attention to relevant issues, the 54-year-old who has been street painting for the past 17 years says that it is not always about a social issue. “Sometimes it’s just a social commentary. Some of them are just fun pieces,” she says.
It all started for Tracy when she was in her 30s – a hobby that she pursued at street painting festivals back home, in Ventura, Southern California. “We have a lot of such festivals back home. The weather is great, it just doesn’t rain over there,” she laughs. She eventually started doing it professionally and her 3D street art is only close to reality.
True to that, she uses this art from to engage with people. “When I started off, I was only exploring. I eventually learnt that creating 3D drawings is a great way to engage with public. So, for me it is about inspiring people creatively and also creating something delightful – by adding some humour and curiosity to the piece that would draw people in and keep them interested in the process,” she explains, while an old couple and a young boy clad in pair of cream capris, enquire about the piece that is soaking in the sun.
Tracy stresses how public art form such as this one helps engage with a common person. “It is for that person who comes to the mall to shop. These people might not see an art piece put up in a museum or in a gallery that talks about an issue. But they will surely stop and see this. So it brings in a wider audience,” elaborates Tracy who has been painting and colouring since she was a child. She later spent many years as a commissioned artist and a muralist and eventually took to street painting. Why?
She has a fascinating reason – it taught her to let go.
“When I learnt about using chalk pastels on street, it sounded strange, because it is impermanent and fragile. But there was something appealing about it. It is process-oriented. It takes an average time of 24 to 36 hours per art piece but has a short lifespan. This only teaches you to let go and not be so attached to your work, or for that matter anything,” she grins.
And she did face situations when she had no choice, but to let go. “It teaches you to be forgiving. If something goes wrong, we wipe and redo it. That’s a lesson. You can always start over. Once there was one piece which was 99.95 per cent complete and then it rained. We couldn’t even click a picture,” she says without a hint of disappointment.
“You just let go. You shouldn’t be attached to it and say, okay, I can do it again. Or I can improve on the last one. I thought that one wasn’t meant to be. But there is another one that is supposed to happen. I will work on that,” she beams. This is what she also tells students at the workshops she regularly conducts.
“A lot of people feel hesitant and are not confident about their work. They want their work to be perfect. It prevents them from going forward. So, I tell them, art is not about making a beautiful picture as much as it is about the journey. The creative process is about exploration, discovering things about yourself. So just start with a simple thing, a line and move into a square or a circle and then something else and just play,” says Tracy.
With a career spanning over two decades, Tracy has seen the advent of internet and the way it helps people across the globe connect to her work.
“When I first started, not many people knew about this art. Now, it is all over the place. Kids come and say, wow! I have seen this online. But never live and then they get super excited. They want to know the details of the process and that is learning for me too. It encourages me to continue working,” she tells us.
Tracy also shares that many people are interested in seeing this art work live. “Seeing it online is one thing, but understanding the proportions, the scale, how it is distorted and how you can move around it and see how the technology of designing one of these works makes them even more excited. They go like, I didn’t realise it was so exaggerated and extended at the top end,” she mimics a young girl she met a few months ago.
“They are trying to understand how the camera works with it because these paintings are meant to be viewed with camera lens. So, demystifying the process is fascinating for many,” she adds.
Her art has taken her across the globe and she beams that she has been able to reach out to communities in countries like, “Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Central China – these people are never going to see something like this live. They may see it online may be,” she points. This is what makes her realise that her work is worth all the trouble.
It is, however, not her first time in this “diverse” country and she loves coming back for many reasons.
“I have street painted in most of the major cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and other cities like Kanpur, Vellore, Bhubaneshwar, Vizag, Puri – a variety of places and I love this country. It is so different from the US and I appreciate the differences, it is a colourful place, a place of contrast. Life is in your face and the people here are so engaging, warm, enthusiastic and supportive. I think art is a part of India’s culture, it is part of who you are, and can appreciate our work without much effort. We love that,” she says with a grin, as she goes back to her unfinished piece.