the thought-stream of an artist and writer

Tracey Physioc Brockett

the thought-stream of an artist and writer

Monday, November 5, 2012

Correcting For Drift, part two

I have finally uncrated the last of the large paintings stored in the unheated garage for 9 years,  the unheated attic of the home before that, and various basements. I didn't expect to find much... they are nearly 30 years old.... thickly painted and badly knocked around. I didn't remember several of them but I was glad I didn't destroy them earlier just because they were damaged, as I did so much else. It is good for an artist to come face to face again with old work that has been forgotten.
In The Garden of My Obsession, 46 x 48, oil on canvas,  1988.

In those days I was painting in a little room about 5 x 9 feet that had only a transom window . Most of the time I painted at night, after work, with jury-rigged lighting. I have never been able to paint well when the light shines on wet paint. I had recently come from nearly a year of a magnificent, well-lit studio and oodles of daylight painting time at an artist colony, and I was struggling. So I started painting wide swaths of  smooth glossy colour with a palette knife. I am sure I was influenced by Nicolas de Stael, among other artists who I was looking at at the time, but it seemed a terrific solution to the problem of wet brush strokes, and had the added bonus of helping me play with shape like building blocks. I was still casting about for a sense of self in my work, something that seems absurd to worry about now.  I did not yet have the luxury of years of experience in making bad and indifferent art in order to mine the gems, so I was impatient and fearful of failure in a way I am not now.
Hedge, oil on canvas, 36 x 38, 1986?

Thayer's Orchard, oil on canvas, 44 x 46,1985.

 I eventually had a solo show of this work at the local community college. I called the series In The Garden of My Obsession, and for some reason I do remember that I hung 40 pieces. There is no photographic record of it however, and many individual paintings, now long gone, were never photographed either, as I was terrible at documenting in those days. With the paintings, I hung poems and scraps from my sketchbooks because I was already aware that there were themes here I would obsessively work out and expand upon for the rest of my working days.
Huddle, oil on canvas, 28 x 28, circa 1988.

This spring when I started a new series, the Obsession paintings were very far from my mind; they were all hidden away. It was half a year in that one painting reminded me I was not far from my beginnings, that things I thought I had abandoned were not finished with me.
Correcting For Drift, 38 x 40, acrylic and oil stick on paper, 2012
What I  could not have understood all those years ago, is how slender the territory an artist can mine for gold. I thought it had to be huge, the ideas, the execution, wide ranging inspirations for which one travelled the globe, the universe. But it is also a fairy's breath, a will"o the wisp that can come from the most humble sources and cling for a lifetime to that space behind the eyeballs at the moment just at waking from sleep. I thought I was trying to make things solid and controllable; I thought Art was the magic that could make things so, could put life in order like a piece of music by Bach. Before Chaos Theory I could not have embraced the work I do now. I remember rejecting work in which the structure fell apart. I was not ready to see it's beauty.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Correcting For Drift, part one

 It's time for another sweep of my old paintings, to reassess, salvage those that need it, throw away. This is the first time I've gone through some work in decades... rolls and rolls of canvases from my earliest days as a painter. And it's the first time I've had a digital camera, with it's instant gratification for correction. I hardly ever look at my old slides. I was no photographer, and I seldom had the money for a real one. Most of this work lay forgotten and undocumented in what ever storage place I could muster... attic or basement, garage. There are a couple of crates of thickly painted paintings I'm leaving for last. I expect, after all the freeze-thaws and years of damp there will be little left of the paint surface, and I know there are no photos of this work. 

 I am ready to let go of all of it. It seems to me that I was marking time. That these are place holders, tickets for the future.I was teaching myself my colours, educating my hand, and protecting my heart. I was figuring myself out, because everything, including me, was an enigma. If someone said "oh you are a landscape painter" I would say to myself, "okay let's see what a landscape painter does".

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Turnings and Findings

I dreamt that I took apart my grandfather's bed, the great 200+ year old four-poster in which I sleep, and put it out by the street in front of my childhood home. 

Our house was the lodge or gatehouse for a great estate built in the roaring 20's in Toronto, buttermilk coloured limestone and half-timbered on the upper story. It was surrounded by a limestone wall with wrought iron gratings and great heavy wrought iron gates, in front of which I set the bed parts, right by the road. Though I left them lying there, they were intended somehow to be a display, an installation,  but someone took it all away. I went to tell my father; it had been his father's bed, and we went out to look. I found 2 of the posts returned inside the wall next to where we always had a little vegetable garden. I did not feel very disturbed by any of this. When we went back out to the street, we found that someone had also returned the headboard, which was lying upside down on the ground in the rain, and the remaining 2 posts. But they had crudely cut up the posts as if they had wanted to use them for something else but it hadn't worked out. I thought to myself, no problem, I know I can put this back together again.

Pieces of the Game, wood, hair, fur, circa 1999. various dimensions.

Last night on a walk I discovered a number of old poster beds by the side of the road, offered free to any who wanted them.... offered by different people, in front of several houses. It seemed the universe wanted me to notice them, wanted me to have bedposts. So I got my car and I took them, though I have no place for them in the house or garage. Or my studio. Many years ago I was given a chair and sofa with turned mahogany legs, and they spoke to me in the same way. Gradually they stopped being furniture and became something else. All my life there have been threads of things that appear and disappear, compelling me to act without a plan...or discovering the plan as I am acting on some mysterious whim.

more blog on dream constructions:  Properties of Association

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Naming of Parts

I have hit on the nomenclature, pinned myself on map, diagram and blueprint because I need somewhere to land and stake a claim to the great unknown to which I have  embarked. Upon. Or  to. Destination is shaky if at all existent. Where I am wither? And how, and with what means?
Paint and canvas is the vessel of my journey. My voyage. My passage to the unknown. There be dragons here, at the end of the known world. So I would begin the naming of parts to save myself.
Diagram E; Star Chart, oil stick on paper, 31x30

My ticket is paid by attention, precision, accuracy in cartography; round surface bound to the flat plane; time spinning like a top on a moving surface; shifting weights tensing and flexing some invisible net and inching lines over fraction by fraction, whirling, repelling and fusing in strange alchemy.


Some times as I work and rework a painting  matter becomes more and more immaterial and I think  it will vanish in a puff of air and me with it, if I push out too far. Am I on land or sea, or floating, some thin gas, dissipating?  The problem is quite simple, really;  if I don't know where I am going, how will I know when I am there?
 I have named it travel. 

There are other metaphors; archaeological, mythic and earth based. I could have settled on the words of human stories, of thwarting and waiting and bursting through barriers for a prize. Lost and found, the games Time has played with civilizations 'til we give up count and know only whispers, snippets , from the stories of our ancestors, waiting to be uncovered again, or reordered and reused. I thought that this would be where my art resided,here among the humanity, as my love for history was kindled in college and I have kept reading and studying. Perhaps it is, only I do not know it yet.
more blog on travel, destinations and journeys

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Becoming

"There was no way of knowing with what one was dealing until it existed; so that in order to see one had to paint and through that activity found what could be seen." Bridget Riley.

previous blog on work from this series:

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I am finding my ground again, after a week in New York at the art fairs, and 3 weeks with bronchitis, when I brooded about what I had seen and where I am going with my own work. I am at a crossroads, without a job, and I am sniffing out what I have not explored in my life. My work is not autobiographical, except that things I think about  because they are coming up in my world are bound to show up visually, whether I will them or not. I have been thinking about shifts and changes... large ones like the end of an era that our society seems to be facing, of job safety and government that respects the constitution, and even larger ones of climate change and geology. Yesterday, driving to New Haven, CT. we passed Rocky Hill, where the ice age glaciers ended and dumped their loads of gravel and rock. Once upon a time, where I live was a new territory, lakes of melted ice water and delicate new greenery on a scoured and reshaped landscape. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tracking Sign

I am exploring a new neighbourhood.
Any time I am out of my comfort zone I have a blankness in my brain. All the chatter turns to white noise. I don't know why my brain does this, a kind of emptying out, preparing to receive.

I know people who see conspiracy in everything. Or God in every system, the devil in the details. In the city it is easy to see what one is looking for. Most of life it is sheer accident  what one sees, what one notices; the deer running down a driveway, a friend on a busy street corner..
An avatar, a savior.
A warning.
Like the Khabbalah the math is everywhere, ones and zeros combining and separating.

When I work on my boxes, this is what I am doing; looking for signs. They are each a story I haven't told yet, but one that exists somewhere. They all have a truth that is immutable, even if words can be arranged and rearranged, exchanged and refined to tell it.

sometimes I think of painting as if I am tracking a wild animal...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where to Put your Feet When your Head is Occupied Elsewhere

I am working on something I know nothing about. It's thrilling like a spy novel.
I wanted to write about words, about language. About defining things. There are patterns, hidden affinities, meanings I sense and am longing to explore. But there is a barrier between seeing and naming that I cannot cross. I keep trying.

I need to let my body take over. My head is so tired it hurts. It's been holding too much in, juggling and sorting, holding the reins too tight. And my heart... well it usually leads, galloping ahead and falling all over itself like an overexcited puppy, bound for hurt and disappointment. Somewhere in between my body holds it's muscle memories quietly and deeply.

 My hand is like a dancer who has rehearsed so much the music has taken over. I need to be abandonment.

I must suspend belief, judgement, taste.

What ever I think I am doing is bound to have other meanings, like a double agent. Nothing is what it seems. 

The intention that I nurture isn't always what I end up loving in the end.

There is code imprinted under my eyelids, if I can just get in there and learn to read it.

Previous blog about sketching:

Plans and Diagrams; Intention Manifest

Monday, January 23, 2012

More Lessons From The Dancing Master

Diagram B
For better or worse I am done with working on this piece. Imagining the layers that are there has been like playing chess in my head. The painting pleases me at first glance. I can't tell if I worked it to death, if the mystery has been scraped out of it yet. I'm such a worry wart. The joy is there, underneath.

Diagram B unfinished 1/29/12

This is one of those paintings that may never justify to time and materials spent, and yet..... I have dragged this piece kicking and screaming from wall to wall and I am only beginning to hear what it's been trying to tell me.... that there is something I want/ need to follow, some will o the wisp breath/touch of the ephemeral truth....

Diagram B unfinished 2/6/12

I keep hoping it will reveal more. I am addicted to adding and scraping. I had always hoped to film the process by which I uncover a painting, but the lengthy time I have needed for each canvas has mothballed that idea over and over. I am getting better at throwing out the jabs of colour and line, seeing what they have caught. When I start to go wrong I can usually save us from total chaos. I thought that perhaps being able to witness it again over my own shoulder might give me some idea of what it is I am doing. Understanding what it is that gives a painting that one little puff of a breath that sends it off breathing on it's own. Beginning is easy. Finishing wrenches me hand, heart and soul.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lessons From The Dancing Master

Untitled Sketch from The Dancing Master Series
The question of Influence and Inspiration.

Three weeks after the intensity of New York, the false cheer of several fundraisers to aid the flood relief after Hurricane Irene, and the complications of multiple family birthday celebrations, I am back in my studio, facing my own work. There is no avoiding the issue of why I am an artist when all the introspective thought I allow here in this space comes galloping at me as I settle in at my work table.
I come from a very artistic family, with professional artists of many generations on both sides, cousins, siblings,nephews. Nearly exclusively they were or are working at the representational end of the realism/abstraction spectrum.
I have always known I was an artist, but I didn't really start painting until I was in my twenties, in my last semester of college, and after many drawing and printmaking classes. It took a while, and many frustrating classes before I realized I was most influenced by landscape, longer still to give up trying to paint en plein aire. 
I try to walk and hike in nature often. Only recently I have been bringing along the small camera I bought last year to take photos of work I saw in New York. The idea of recording things visually in photographs is very new and foreign to me. I have very few until recently, and there is a swath of nearly 2 decades of my life were there are virtually no photographs of me or my life at all. The  idea of actively seeking out and capturing the inspiration for my work seems even more foreign. For most of my career I have only known what I was interested in by looking at my paintings.