Kool Kat of the Week: Tracy Murrell Creates Retro Art For the 21st Century, Work Featured In Upcoming Exhibit At Lowe Gallery

Posted on: Feb 19th, 2014 By:

"Torchy" by Tracy Murrell. Used with permission.

One of Atlanta’s hottest rising visual artists and this week’s Kool Kat, Tracy Murrell, plays with pin-ups and cartoon pop art in her latest installation, part of the Fine Arts Workshop Group Exhibition, which opens Friday, Feb. 21 at the Bill Lowe Gallery in Midtown.

A minimalist painter inspired by vintage iconic photographs, Murrell reduces her subjects to their essential elements, eliminating everything until it’s stripped to raw imagery, exposing their most compelling details. Her latest work features female forms reminiscent of sophisticated pin-ups. But for Murrell they are much more. Inspired by the stunning images of pioneering artist Jackie Ormes (1911 – 1985), the first African-American woman cartoonist, Murrell explores racial and gender stereotypes. She reimages the original cartoons, sometimes morphing her own likeness with Ormes’ original groundbreaking female African-American archetype, creating an ‘avatar’ for her struggle for her own identity as an artist and a woman. Painted in high key color, reminiscent of Pop and Post Pop Masters such as Lichtenstein, Katz and Hume, Murrell’s work prompts the viewer to question their own beliefs about race and gender, as well as what is high and low art. Her bright, bold, provocative works are already causing a stir with private collectors.

On a recent weekend, while busily working on several large canvases in her studio at the King Plow Arts Center, Murrell is percolating with ideas while she talks about her work. “I always drew from the time I could hold a crayon,” Murrell explains.  “My dad was in the Air Force so we moved a lot and I took influences from different places. We spent four years outside Madrid, Spain when I was a child. I think the colors and flavors of life there greatly affected my view of the world and my art.”  After Spain, The Murrells returned to the states and settled in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Tracy Murrell in her King Plow studio. Photo credit: Shiela Turner.

“I took art classes in college but didn’t consider it a real career choice because I was studying to be a child psychiatrist. I got a degree in psychology and then got an offer in Atlanta in the music industry,” Murrell continues. “I landed a great job with Red Distribution/Sony Records which lead to a dream job with EMI Records. I needed something to balance the craziness of the music industry so one afternoon I went to the art store and bought a canvas so huge that I had to borrow a truck to get it home. I put it in the corner of my kitchen and painted and repainted on that canvas for two years until I liked what I saw. I realized I needed to paint or I would go crazy.”

By 2009, Murrell was at a crossroads and realized she wanted her work to have deeper meaning. She began the search for a mentor. Answering an open call to work with renowned artist Louis Delsarte on his 125-foot-long Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mural introduced her to a collaborative artistic environment, which she loved. It also led to finding her mentor, Michael David and the Fine Arts Workshop.

Working with Michael and the artists who are part of the Fine Arts Workshop has been a life-changing experience for Murrell as she begins to establish herself as a professional artist. In the process she’s been tracing her family history with art and connecting the dots. Her mom is an avid art collector, teacher and curator. And she discovered that her great uncle Elton Fax is a significant artist and writer.

It was while researching Fax’s work during the Harlem Renaissance that Murrell discovered Ormes. The more she read about her, the more she felt they were kindred spirits. Among Murrell’s favorite subjects is Jackie Ormes’ famous 1930s character, Torchy Brown.  Murrell’s “Torchy” series pays homage to Ormes.

"Girlfriends" by Tracy Murrell. Used with permission.

Another step along Murrell’s artistic path has been working as a marketing consultant and a curator. Working in the music industry taught her valuable skills that she brought to the Atlanta Jazz Festival’s 2012 marketing team, in her current position with the National Black Arts Festival, and as the curator at Hammonds House Museum for the last two years.

“I love exhibition making,” Murrell says. “Instead of paint, I use an artist’s work as my medium. It has helped me grow as an artist. I study each of the mediums as we present them so I am learning constantly. I have become more sensitive to the partnership between art and the public.”

The opening reception at Bill Lowe Gallery is from 6-9 p.m. on Fri. Feb. 21. The gallery is located at 1555 Peachtree Street NE #100, Atlanta, GA 30309. To see examples of Tracy Murrell’s art visit her Website at: www.tracymurrell.com.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Va-Va-Voom for Vinyl! Amber Lu Plans a PinUp Pageant to Help Save Criminal Records

Posted on: Nov 1st, 2011 By:
By Shellie Schmals
Contributing Blogger
During World War II and the 1940s, a PinUp was more than a picture on the wall. She was a glamour girl captured in an intimate moment. A cheeky expression of surprise reminding our soldiers there was something worth fighting for back home. As war waged on, countless women graced the bunkers in battle – ­Betty Grable, Veronica Lake, Lauren Becall and Ingrid Bergman, to name a few. We see the image of the PinUp Girl every day in popular culture, from burlesque stars like Dita Von Teese to pop tart Katy Perry on tour as a Teenage Dream.

Today, we are also fighting a war of our own ­ the recession. The current unemployment rate in Georgia is 10.3%, which is higher than the national rate of 9.1%. Everyday the reality of foreclosure hits with homeowners displaced and businesses closing.  When Criminal Records announced plans to shut their doors, the outcry from fans could be heard from all over Atlanta. Since September, The King of Pops, Variety Playhouse, WonderRoot and Pamela Caltabiano have coordinated projects to SAVE CRIMINAL RECORDS ATLANTA.

The list of advocates continues, as Amber Lu, a PinUp model and longtime friend of Criminal Records, becomes the producer of the Criminal Cuties PinUp Pageant on Saturday November 5 at 7:30 p.m. (doors at 6 p.m.). As a benefit for Criminal Records, Amber Lu’s own war on the recession touches on several retro loves we share with her – PinUps and the neighborhood music and comics store – so we had to make her Kool Kat of the Week.

Amber Lu channels her inner Julie Newmar. Hair and make-up by Cherry Dame. Photo credit: Robin Cook.

ATLRETRO: Why a benefit for Criminal Records?

Amber Lu: When I found out Criminal Records was on the brink of closing its doors, I decided I wanted to throw a benefit of some sort to help them stay open.  I have a lot of close friends that work at Criminal, and it has become a home away from home for me. I am a PinUp model myself, so I thought it’d be fun to integrate the idea of Classic PinUps with what is becoming the retro aspect of the modern record store.  Plus, a pinup pageant is a great way to draw people in to the store for the rest of the fundraising events going on that night, i.e., our silent auction, bake sale, photobooth and DJ!!

What qualities are you looking for in Miss Criminal Records 2011?

A real PinUp should have the qualities I like to refer to as “The 3 P’s of PinUp”:

1) Personality! – She should be fun! Playful! Open to talking to people!
2) Presentation! – She should look the part with her hair, makeup, costuming, etc! We are calling for a little ‘twist’ in the costuming dept here for Criminal, being that it’s a comic book and record store, contestants are encouraged to dress as their favorite comic/ sci-fi characters or [in a] music-inspired costume!
3) Poise! – How they carry themselves and relate to others! This, by far, is the most important quality a PinUp should have!! Call me old fashioned, but a PinUp is a lady, and should act like one. The beauty of PinUp for me personally, is the fact that a girl can be cute and sexy and provocative at the same time… But she’s still a Lady! Less is more ’cause it’s all about the tease……

Amber Lu Amazes as Mary Jane, Spider-Man's girlfriend. Hair and make-up by Cherry Dane. Photo credit: Grant Beecher.

These qualities, along with a love for music and everything awesome, are what will help Miss Criminal Records 2011 earn her crown!!

What fabulous prizes will Miss Criminal Records 2011 and Runner Ups win?
PinUp Photographer Grant Beecherand stylist Cherry Dame are providing a free photoshoot for the winner of the pageant! Mother Pucker Lemonade will shoot the winner for a possible ad for their Vodka Lemonade. Lovely Beauty Shop  is providing gift certificates to their website for the winner and two runners up. Artist Scott Blair is providing a FREE personalized sketch for the 2nd Runner Up.

How is Criminal Records an asset to the Little Five Points community?

Criminal Records is the reason I venture into Little Five Points most days… There is ALWAYS something going on there! Bands playing live in-store shows to promote their records… vegan bake sales… Record Store DayFree Comic Book Day… book signings… Asshole Santa every Christmas?! Too many good things to count! I’ll never forget the day I [first] walked up to Criminal Records, when they were in their old location, and I saw the Indigo Girls playing on the curb there! Where else could you see that?!  I was new to Atlanta at the time, and had no idea that shows like that were a regular occurrence at Criminal. I also had the opportunity to meet Michael Cera and, my personal favorite, Jason Schwartzman, due to the fan-girl antics of the amazing Lillian Hughes, who set up a Fan Meet-n-Greet for the movie: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD! Criminal is always on the look out for fun exciting events for comic book and music fans alike. It is a very neighborhood-oriented store and focuses on supporting local artists,  as well as the communities’ well being. Only a few small reasons we need to preserve indie record stores, [and] Criminal Records in particular!!

Some say that vinyl and even CDs are considered Retro now. How are they still relevant  in a world of MP3s and digital downloads?

Vinyl has made a huge comeback in the past few years. Many people prefer its sound to the digitally remastered CDs out there. In fact, most bands nowadays put their music out on vinyl before they’d think about putting a CD out to sell. It is sad to me that CDs have somehow become a thing of the past – “retro” if you will; iTunes obviously changed the music industry immensely, and in my opinion, for the worse. Although I do enjoy being able to have my music available on my phone and at the touch of a button, I can’t help but be sad for newer generations of music fans who may never experience the excitement of going to a record store, discovering a new band, taking their CD home, enjoying reading through the album cover, and appreciating the artwork while they experience the music out loud!

Thank goodness for the Vinyl Revival, but if we don’t do something to protect indie record stores like Criminal Records and Wax n Facts, even vinyl enthusiasts will have nowhere to go.

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