Tracey Elizabeth Downing
Where do you live?
Carshalton, Surrey (nowadays part of the London Borough of Sutton)
What is your background?
I was always good at art at school and it was my best subject in High School. My teacher encouraged me to think about going to Art College, which is the path I took. I did a Fine Art BA, specialising in Fine Art Photography. It was an interesting and challenging time as we were encouraged to think about our intentions in the work we made. I made mostly installation art. I wanted to do painting but didn’t find my niche in the painting department and that’s what I’ve come back to. Although the work I made back then was photographic, I’m still interested in similar themes and photography plays a big part in my day as I’m always collecting source material. I have a big book of ‘Noticings’ that I put my source photos in.
What does your work aim to say?
I am interested in the relationships we have with thought, memory and the objects around us which link these three elements. I am more interested in objects and details than representing people in my work, but the objects, motifs and totems that emerge take on characteristics and relate to the other subjects in my paintings. My work falls between the representational and abstract genres and although my paintings rarely include people, the elements in my compositions often take on a personality of their own. In referring to objects in my work I don’t mean traditional still life painting, but I do love including teacups in my work from time to time. I am constantly curious about the meaning particular objects hold for us.
I am interested in the interface between painting and writing and continue to write poetry. I love cold water swimming, which helps me to manage my chronic condition and provides me with the thinking time to develop and process my creative ideas. Art is my passion now and I am really excited to see how my practice develops over time. My Art Psychotherapy training continues to inform my creative practice and how I ‘see the world’. I am interested in how our internal worlds are expressed in the medium of art. I would love anyone who is interested in my art practice to follow me and subscribe to my newsletter and any enquiries and questions are most welcome.
How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
I never studied History or Politics at school and these subjects weren’t often discussed in the homes I grew up in. I have never attempted to make comment on social issues on purpose but would not consider myself as particularly conformist in my roles or the way I make art. My main focus is to communicate what needs to be expressed in my paintings. If my paintings resonate with viewers and people choose to buy my work that’s great but it’s not my primary focus. I try to make art with no original fixed agenda other than to paint. It’s fascinating what emerges and often it’s only when I look at work retrospectively that I understand it more fully.
Who are your biggest influences?
I love the work of a diverse range of artists. My top five would be Lisa Milroy, who I interviewed and wrote about in my thesis; Prunella Clough for her passionate representation of the mundane and banal details in everyday life; and Howard Hodgkin for his use of paint and colour. I also love the work of Victor Willing, Philip Guston and a little-known artist called Roger Cedric, who I recently discovered. I also love the work of Rose Wylie and Amy Silman. I could go on! Looking at other artists’ art is a big part of my experience and research around being an artist. I have lots of books on a wide range of artists. It’s important to acknowledge that one can be influenced by other artists but not make work like theirs. Often, work I love, like Agnes Martin for instance, is very different from my own.
How have you developed your career?
After completing my BA in Fine Art, I focused on raising my family and working in schools for seven years before training to become an Art Psychotherapist which was a three year MA programme that I took at Goldsmiths College University of London. I worked as an Art Psychotherapist for seven years, but then was diagnosed with a rare chronic spinal condition called Tarlov Cyst Disease so was unable to continue in that job. Sitting is basically always uncomfortable, so that keeps me on my toes!
I try to maintain a positive attitude and feel most well when I am active, but I have to pace myself more now. I have an ongoing love affair with my hot water bottle. I have always continued my creative practice in some way over the years; attending evening classes, getting involved with theatre and doing two runs at the Edinburgh Festival and taking an A Level in Printmaking when my children were young. The last 18 months have been very important in terms of developing my artist vocation. I feel as though I am now doing what I was meant to and it really helps me manage my physical and mental wellbeing.
I have loved courses I’ve attended at the Emily Ball @ Seawhite Contemptorary painting school and going on a creative sketchbook course with artist Katie Sollohub in 2016 was a huge turning point for me in coming back to my art. I have a garden studio but moved in December 2019 to Wimbledon Art Studios, which has been an important decision in taking my art life more seriously and becoming part of a wider community of artists. It’s like going to work but doing what I love most, although anyone who is an artist knows we can have moments of questioning what we do and why. It’s impossible to escape from your own thoughts at times, which is both good and bad.
How do you seek out opportunities?
I am active on social media and love networking with all kinds of creatives. I try and keep up with projects via organisations such as Artists Network and Curator Space and regularly submit my work to open calls. Once my family have become independent of me, I would like to explore residencies and hope to travel to other locations to spend more concentrated time on my art practice. I regularly attend courses and am part of a mentorship group called The Connected Artist group, which is invaluable. I am part of a collective with other Art Psychotherapists I trained with and we have worked on projects and exhibitions together.
During lockdown due to the Covid-19 Pandemic I started writing poetry and made a book of 22 poems with illustrations. I call my poems ‘Moems’ as they are a moment in time captured but, on a bad day, a cross between a moan and a poem. I enjoy playing with words and often make them up. The book has been successful as it resonated with the experience of others. There are still a few available and I plan to write a second book in the new year to be released for my birthday! I often share Moems on my social media accounts, some of them are funny too and I am interested in the interplay between different emotions.
How do you cultivate a collector base?
I have done commissions and been contacted via the Wimbledon Art Studios Art Fair which was held online in May (and will be again in November – see below) but we are permitted to have booked visitors see us in our studios in small numbers and everyone is asked to pre-register for the show online. I am a member of my local artist open studios group and have exhibited for two years and enjoyed meeting those people following the art trail.
I have a following on Instagram and Facebook and send newsletters to those on my mailing list every few months. I built a website last year where people can see my artwork, read my CV and blogs and purchase works or contact me about commissions.
How do you navigate the art world?
I am always interested in new ventures and opportunities to show my work and have exhibited work in cafes and local shops as well as open studios events and the Art Fairs at Wimbledon Art Studios. I have poems and paintings featured in online exhibitions and have written about my art practice and poetry book for Refresh magazine. My painting ‘Bathe’ is featured on the front cover of the Summer 2020 online edition of the International Journal of Art Therapy.
I try to be adaptable and have embraced engaging with social media, including live events, since Covid-19 has restricted face-to-face events attended by large numbers of people.
How do you price your work?
I price my work incrementally and have small and larger paintings for sale. My prices range from £22 for my illustrated book of poems to £500 for larger 60cm by 90cm paintings. My current prices reflect the stage I am at with selling my work. I’ve recently started having work professionally photographed and am considering getting prints made in the future. I haven’t explored gallery representation yet but have been encouraged when I have received commissions and when other artists who are more prominent in the contemporary art world have made positive comments about my work. I’m currently working on some new 1m square canvases and enjoying using oil paint in a looser way.
Which current art world trends are you following?
I am really interested in the contemporary British painting scene and have enjoyed hearing artists talk about their work on podcasts such as Painters Today, The Savvy Painter, The Curators Salon, Authentic Obsessions, The Great Women Artists and Artjuice. I was very pleased to have my Moems mentioned in episodes 75 and 93 of Artjuice. It’s a great podcast and I haven’t missed an episode yet. I follow Kate Bryan on social media as well as Blue Shop Cottage and Warbling Collective, which are advocates of emerging artists. I attend exhibitions and artist talks when I can and have a small but growing collection of work by living artists who I follow.
The Artist Support Pledge has been such a positive initiative during the pandemic to enable many artists to continue selling work when events and shows have been cancelled. I am also interested in collaborative working and recently made small works on paper as part of a postal art collaboration with two other artists from Connected Artist Group. I have planned future collaborative work with a fellow artist and friend and we have written a proposal for a gallery space but are waiting to hear back.
I’ve started term one of the Turps Banana Contemporary Painting School course, which is exciting and all managed through correspondence rather than face-to-face reviews, which is a novel idea. I am looking forward to reading the first review of images of my paintings from someone I’ve never met in real life!
Do you have any exhibitions coming up? Where can people see your work?
I’m involved with three events coming up: The Merton Arts Festival which is online from 9th November; then Carshalton Artists online Christmas event Nov 14-15 followed by The Wimbledon Art Fair online which takes places from November 19-22. I was involved in a local Lockdown Artists exhibition at two historic buildings close to where I live; Whitehall in Cheam and Honeywood House in Carshalton. This exhibition was organised by London Borough of Sutton Cultural Services and my poetry book is included in the archive of artists work during this period alongside creative responses to lockdown submitted by members of the local community. I am also featured in the list of artists on the Wandsworthart.com website as my studio is located within the borough.
Where can you be found on social media?
My Instagram handle is https://instagram.com/traceyelizabethdowning/ and my Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/traceyelizabethdowningartist/
My website is https://www.traceyelizabethdowning.com
All photographs above were taken by Bill Mudge whose website is www.billmudge.co.uk