Thursday, 12 March 2015

In the Studio with Tracey Keller - Artist of Life


























Do you believe in synchronicity? Was it synchronicity that lead me to go to an International Womens Day morning tea and to sit next to a talented woman who asked me about my cowboy boots. Perhaps so? I wasn't to know that Tracey Keller was to be the speaker that day and I wasn't to know that her story would inspire me so much that it would lead me to go visit her in the studio to have a chat about her life and art, both of which are intrinsically linked.

Tracey Keller's story really begins when she was just 15 years old. A keen athlete, her life changed when she was hit by a car and suffered horrific knee and head injuries. Her parents were told that if she ever woke up she would have permanent brain damage and never be able to walk again. Tracey regained consciousness, and, through many months of rehabilitation, suffered more from what Tracey would probably describe as a 'bad attitude', which was more obvious than her other physical issues. Physiotherapy was ( and still is) a daily reality. Her mother took her to watch all her friends play the sports she had previously enjoyed from the sidelines. Crutches and wheelchairs were part of her routine. Operations on her head and knees were frequent.. She was angry and bitter and she made sure that she reminded everyone around her of this everyday.

One day at around 18 years of age she reached breaking point when she saw the look of pain in her mother's eyes. This was the moment she decided that she couldn't go on existing like this and something "clicked". Slowly she began changed her attitude. She decided that every day she would wake up and ask herself " what will I do today to make myself better? " Over time, this was replaced with "What will I do today to make myself extraordinary?".

This is a perfect example of the Tracey Keller I spent time with in her studio.

I arrive at the studio and meet Tracey who is finishing up her work on a painting. I also meet lovely Linda in the studio who is Traceys Studio Manager. I spend some time in the afternoon watching the different processes at work.

I ask Tracey if she ever has a bad day where she doesn't feel like painting in bright colours and wants to perhaps paint something dark and moody. She looks at me like I am an alien that just appeared from a spaceship. It is apparent that the answer is no, this doesnt happen. She is doing what she loves and she wakes up every day focusing on the positives and asking herself what she can do to make it better, who she can make smile, and what can she do to smile further. Basically there are no bad days because she does not allow negative emotions to be focussed on, instead focusing on the positives and what she can proactively do to change anything that would be considered negative (or, what she terms as "challenging").

To look at Traceys paintings you would never guess the personal trials she herself has endured in her past. Her artwork is full of colour and life. In fact, joy is the motivating factor that is being expressed through her paintings.

How did Tracey the artist come to be? Tracey had once painted a fish. She had painted it from left over house paint. She had a corporate career for Hilton International but then decided it was time to leave. With that decision came another one. Well, what now? 'Well I am pretty good at art' she thought as she remembered her fish painting on the wall ' I will become an artist'. Tracey hired a studio along with a misfit crew of fellow artists and then travelled around to different art galleries to get feedback on her fish painting. No one took her fish painting but she learnt alot. Weeks came and went and no new art was produced. Instead she spent time flicking through magazines in the studio. Then, a phone call. It was a successful art gallery asking if they could take her out to lunch. Tracey thought carefully about what to wear and then decided a pair of overalls would be the perfect choice. She would splash different colours of paint on them for an added affect. Out for lunch the gallery owners asked her a bunch of questions that she pretended to understand. She answered them the best way she could. They asked her if she had a body of work ( she didn't). She told them yes she did. Next she was informed that they would be giving her a solo exhibition in 3 weeks time of her work. 'Wonderful news' she thought as mild panic set in on wondering how she was going to achieve this. She needn't of worried. She got more artwork completed and ready. Her debut solo show sold out.

This was just the beginning.

Tracey is known for her artwork featuring animals and this has made her in demand for commissions of beloved pets. I watch as she works on three small paintings of dogs. I ask her how the process usually works to ensure that everyone is happy. She explains that she has photographs of the pets and also asks for detailed information on the animals. For example she may get a three page letter detailing the personality of the pet. Sometimes she flies to see the pet in person and has done so many times including to overseas clients. Therefore it isn't merely a portrait of the animal, the personality is infused in the artwork. She starts with a sketch on the canvas she sends to the client who then gives the go ahead to begin the painting process. The owners are often in tears as they see their beloved pet brought to life on the canvas.

'A Fish with a Wish' was the book by author Katrina Logan who had been inspired by Tracey's artwork and had humbly approached her to ask if she could use her art with her story for a children's book. Tracey read the story and loved the message behind it and enthusiastically agreed. The book has been a huge success and is widely recognised by both children and adults. and is now on the Qld PreSchool Reading List. 

I have a look around the studio and find some quirky little pieces here and there, a couple of giraffe statues in the driveway, a smurfette hiding in a pot plant, a range of top hats hanging from a hat stand, a vintage electric ride on pig and a Space Invaders arcade game. I also have a squiz in the bathroom ( as you do!) and find a hula hoop. So this leads to more questions of course. Turns out Tracey is also a fully qualified yoga teacher, (she did this to support her soul mate and husband, Kim, Tracey says "He's the yogi and I'm just the boo-boo!".She is also passionate about eating healthy (an avid juicer!) and being active. Now you would think after having had such a horrific accident at a young age that may make someone a little more cautious about doing anything that has risk? Um. no. Tracey actually had another accident paragliding several years ago which lead to her breaking her back and having her foot hanging off by her achilles tendon. Ew. Lucky they were able to save her foot. I am told she has had over 50 general anaesthetics so far. So I am guessing there are alot more stories where that came from! Being active and enjoying every day and looking after herself is what she credits with defying the odds with what her doctors originally told her. She knows the difference in how she feels if she doesn't eat well or exercise so guess what? She makes sure she eats well and exercises! Pretty simple huh?

Tracey Keller now paints original artwork as well as does commissions. She has private collectors of her work all around the world, has exhibited in galleries around the world and is represented by the major players in the Australian Gallery scene. She also has a successful range of prints and cushion covers, and is currently developing further merchandise, all with the classic, quirky TK spin. These are shipped direct from the studio and have been an outstanding success. I should add she is also extremely generous and is regularly donating her work to charities and organisations that touch her heart. She has helped raise over $200,000 to date.

Tracey Keller is full of vitality, she is fun, she is motivating, she speaks the truth and she is one of the most interesting individuals I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I'm so glad I got to meet her :)

2 comments:

Rachid Ghariss said...

Beautiful colours, a good reading, a good artist and a good blogger.

Lisa Diamond said...

Great story about an incredible artist. We too had the pleasure of meeting Tracey just recentlyand I agree that she in quite an amazing individual who adds much joy, wisdom and truth to this world. A wonderful inspiration not only as an artist but as a rare kind of human being.

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