Inside the Studio

Tracy Kerdman

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

Themes are ever evolving, but in general my work has been anchored by the figure. Anything unsettling involving the figure finds its way into my paintings. Whether that means leaving some information out of the face in a portrait or taking a questionable character from a documentary as a person of interest, I want to explore the limits of discomfort. Why do some things feel ok and other don’t; where do instincts and gut feelings draw the line?

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

I have learned that advice is a personal, almost intimate thing. People can give you advice based only on their own experience. It’s more important to make your own way. Every artistic career is so different and unique, along with the work, that what is certain for one painter isn’t for the other.

My drawing professor in college left me a note in my portfolio that read simply, “Keep going.” I think this has been what has stuck with me the most over time. Painting is largely an uphill battle, and even on a good day I will still reconsider what it is I’m doing, so in the end I usually go with, just go. No romance about it.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

I listen to public radio: WNYC and NPR. It helps me get focused and stay connected with the world’s bigger picture. I enjoy the steady stream of information and it keeps me company. I also listen to podcasts, like Radiolab and This American Life. Social sciences and the humanities are great resources that inform my work.

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

My go to answer would be any portrait by John Currin, but a still life by Morandi is also calling my name.

Who are your favorite writers?

Anything David Sedaris writes, I read instantly. I am also taken with the Canadian novelist, Heather O’Neill. Her style of writing makes the harsh fragile and beautiful. I’m currently reading Grapes of Wrath, which has been like unraveling one giant historical painting.