Tracee Gentry-Matthews has known she was an artist for almost as long as she can remember. The realization came when the lifelong Little Rock, Arkansas native was in second grade. She was writing a book report and decided to draw her own cover featuring a careful study of a horse.
“That was the awakening moment, when I realized how much I loved doing it,” she says.
Tracee’s path to becoming a professional artist was a bit longer. She studied fine art in college but switched to interior design her senior year because she thought it would be more practical. Then, in 2000, she gave birth to her daughter Griffyn and everything changed.
“I had been painting for many years and I really wanted to try to show in galleries,” she says. “I didn’t know if I could do it.” Her new baby was a source of great joy, and taught her that she could do anything. She quit her interior design job and declared herself a full-time artist.
“It was one of my happiest times,” says Tracee. “I owe that strength to my daughter and God.”
The next year, the nation was rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Tracee felt devastated. She attended Bible study that day and then went home and picked up a brush.
“I painted the Twin Towers with Jesus’ arms around them,” she says. “I’m not the best at naming works, but I knew what to call this one right away: ‘It’s In God’s Hands.’” Tracee donated the painting to her church, and it still hangs in the prayer room. The piece helped her find light in the darkness and sent her work in a new direction.
Since that first skyline, Tracee has painted a vast series of real and make believe metropolises, albeit using a far more vibrant palette. The artist travels to a city—by plane or through her imagination—and seeks out its soul.
“I want to experience all of the senses that we have,” she says. “I just want to feel the rhythms. I want you to smell the food that’s being cooked, to hear the laughter.” It’s not about recreating an exact visual record of a city, but crafting an emotional view that will drop the viewer’s heart straight into a beloved place.
A lot has changed in the twelve years since Tracee found the courage to leap into the art world. She’s showed her work at two Canyon Road galleries, watched her daughter grow into her tween years and married Waxlander’s own Patrick Matthews.
The artist still does paintings of New York City, but there’s no trace of sorrow in them. In “My Manhattan,” a bright yellow ridge of skyscrapers rises from a sea of abstract color blocks imbued with all the happy chaos of a bustling crowd at Times Square. Far above the hubbub, a faint bridge seems to float in a purple and red sky.
Each new painting is a statement of joy and optimism, of the magic that Tracee has found in Little Rock and anywhere else her artistic adventures take her. Care to join her for the ride?
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