Inside the Studio

Tracie Cheng

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

I’m interested in creating environments through the layering and manipulation of paint and lines. I started with a love of topographical maps, which quickly evolved into an idea that my paintings could hold ‘more than meets the eye’- that there would be hidden moments that help to complete a painting. In the layering process, it can be hard to know when to cover up or what to let fade away, and yet the work often becomes richer in it.

I’m highly inspired by natural phenomena and I enjoy playing with depth, form, and movement. Creating three dimensional spaces on a two dimensional surface is a constant joy and surprise to me. Though I map out the general composition, the lines have an inherent momentum that drives the direction and patterns of the forms. It’s a beautiful intersection between precision and fluidity. I want the viewer to be able to grasp just how structured and yet unpredictable the process is, and I want them to be able to form their own experience of the paintings. As the perspective changes per person, I’ve been further inspired to produce more of these ethereal landscapes so as to challenge spatial understanding while shaping beautiful spaces.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

A few years ago, during a particularly difficult creative block, the quote ‘Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’ was offered to me by a dear friend. I suppose it’s more encouragement than advice, and I still think about this often. I love how this quote reinforces that anyone, through hard work, can become excellent at the thing they’re investing their time and heart in. It refutes a belief that excellence comes from a pre-determined genius. If I’m feeling insecure about my paintings, I can work that out by creating more rather than less, in order to actively refine my talent and skills. If I’m feeling like inspiration is far from me, despite the struggle, just painting can often break down that wall. To persist and invest in the race as if it were a marathon can make all the difference.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

Almost never silence! I grew up singing and playing instruments, and though my primary art form has shifted, music still moves me in a way that I want my paintings to move others. There’s that moment when everything about the song is in complete harmony, and it begins to resonate with your soul- it’s an incredible thing. I feel like I’ve experienced it with many different genres, which is why I’m always looking for new music to listen to. I want my lines to flow the way that I often experience music, and play back something beautiful, kinetic, and mystical. Plus, it’s really fun (and sometimes necessary) to take dance breaks while waiting for paint to dry.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

Almost any sculpture by Ruth Asawa, Alexander Calder, or a painting by J.M.W. Turner. I love the delicate nature of Asawa’s pieces, in form and in execution. I’m still learning to envision my forms in its flat, yet three dimensional realm, and Asawa’s pieces help shed light on the complexity of lines in space. Calder has been a favorite since my architecture days, and I could watch his mobiles float and turn all day. Also, his simple gestural wire drawings are playful and yet powerful. Some of my favorite Turners are the more abstract ones from later in his life- he captures true environments without hard lines and details. His ability to achieve the right colors and effortless strokes to evoke connection and emotion is something I strive for in my work.

Who are your favorite writers?

When I read, I tend towards stories that transport me into new worlds, others’ lives, and ones that bring different insight into humanity. Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera is a classic, one that my husband and I love to read together, while Donald Miller writes simple, honest, and poignant stories from his life of faith. Lately, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Kevin Kwan’s books and how over the top and dramatic Singaporean high society can be. It’s so fun to get that ‘insider’s look’ into such secretive lives, even if their stories are fictional!