If art is revelatory of the artist, a few things are clear about Greenville charcoal artist Traci Martin. First, the shockingly acute facial features in her portrait work tell of a devotee to both technical skill and humanity. Second, the power-clash of color and patterns against those portraits reveals a comfort with risk-taking and an attention to story. “A portrait creates an immediate reaction from the viewer,” she says, “almost like holding up a mirror.” Martin employs a unique blend of stunning hyperrealism and mixed-media abstractions to explore themes of identity and representation, inviting the beholder to hold up that mirror and connect with what’s there.
By the time Traci Martin found her place in the Greenville art community in 2019, she had already forged a firm career as an artist. After securing a bachelor’s in art from Oklahoma State University, Martin jump-started her career with shows in the Oklahoma and Texas art scenes. She built a massive clientele through teaching workshops and offering commissions, which have made homes for her work in 22 states and 5 countries. Last year, Martin entered her original work in an NYC show. “I got in and placed third, and that was a huge moment for me. I felt like the work I’d been developing and producing was validated and ready to send out into larger markets.” Martin continues to participate in shows across the United States, working from her new space in the Village of West Greenville’s Bank Building Studios.
“I spent my first year here in a home studio just making work,” says Traci. “I had all the time I needed to really push into some of these recent concepts I’ve developed and been sketching about for years.” Those concepts, though recent, build on a subject that came to light during Traci’s college years: the legacy of women in art history. “I began to reflect on every major household artist name, and all were male. I longed for an education that brought these women to the forefront. I longed for a childhood where I learned who these women were alongside the men.” The concepts have taken shape through Traci’s current work on her “Art Herstory” series, fearlessly representing the under-told female side of art’s past and present, and doing so with an awareness of intersectional diversity.
Traci’s clear-cut approach to contemporary realism houses the exploration of her work, with its precise language of lifelike likenesses and mixed-media components. She expands on this language through her current series. “The mixed-media elements in this series of work include what I refer to as a ‘visual quotation’ in the form of a painting sample or a design element from a woman artist of the past.” Those quotations accompany a portrait of a woman and the depiction of a moth, the three elements working together to symbolize tales of redemption from underrepresentation. Traci thoughtfully creates this series as a “love letter” to her younger self and to the women represented through it. “Those women laid the foundation for the work that all of us [artists] are doing today.”
Portrait by Will Crooks. For more of Traci’s work, visit tracimartinstudios.com.