I Create Birmingham: Tracie Noles-Ross

“I love exploring new ideas and materials. I love that being an artist gives me permission to think outside that tired old proverbial box and find interesting and creative ways to live and communicate.”

Tracie Noles-Ross has been selected as the Featured Artist of the 2017 Moss Rock Festival, which will be held on November 4th and 5th at The Preserve in Hoover. She has a symbiotic relationship with nature that permeates her art and creative energy. It is a bond that she constantly strives to document, understand, and translate into her work.

Many artists have an intriguing story about how they got their start. What initially inspired you to make art?

At this point in my life, I feel it is more relevant to talk about what I am doing to make sure I can continue to make and share my art in these crazy times than it is to try to suss out when things started for me as an artist. I was a quiet kid. Books, my record player, and pencils and sketchbooks were my best friends. Drawing was the best way for this shy kid to find her voice. That’s my beginning in a nutshell. Now I am a woman, a mother, an amateur naturalist, and so much more with so many issues and stories that I want to explore and share. My art is tangled up in every aspect of my life, so as I grow, my art grows and changes. My beliefs and expectations have also changed over the years.

I started by drawing stories and making objects on scratch paper from my dad’s store on Saturday afternoons. I started by stringing chinaberry seeds and braiding grasses from my front yard. I started by sewing with scraps of fabric given to me by three generations of making women before me. I was indoctrinated in a Depression-era way of keeping and restoring that colored my relationship with materials and economies — and so stems the foundation for my current art vocabulary.

Since becoming a mother, my perspective as an artist and person has shifted tremendously, and I think a lot about what it means to raise daughters and young artists (both of my daughters are currently in the Visual Arts program at Alabama School of Fine Arts) and how to draw attention to social and environmental issues that will undoubtedly impact their futures. I am trying to help them find their voices and establish connections with communities that will help them find their way. No one did that for me.

I have traveled a strange road as an artist but I like where I have landed, and as I keep moving forward and exploring new directions for my work, I am also trying to flip the dialog and teach my daughters that artists are not (always) self-indulgent rebels but are instead important members of society with alternative ideas that need expressing to keep us all thinking about new and better ways of doing things. We need creative people in our communities. I love that I am growing into that belief alongside my daughters. Better late than never!

How has your approach to your work evolved as your career has progressed? Have you implemented different mediums or techniques?

I started out using oil paints and then acrylic in college. I abandoned watercolor and needlework, which were things I loved as a kid, because they were looked on as unimportant, soft, feminine in the very masculine rock star 80’s art world. I got sucked into the macho world of paint and tried to coax my narratives out of those materials but it never sat right with me, and I think hurt me as an artist. I feel I wasted years trying to be “a painter.” I tried using different, less traditional materials back then but experienced resistance from traditional male college professors who hated it when I attempted to incorporate other materials into my narratives, and it took me a long time to find my voice.

Thirty years later, I am all about using a wide range of materials, many from the place where I live — plants for fabric dyes and paper, beeswax from my apiary for encaustic or batik, found objects, etc. These materials better represent my way of thinking and storytelling. I still draw and paint but I also make books and sew quilts. I feel like a much more realized and strong artist and storyteller at this point in my life.

I love exploring new ideas and materials. I love that being an artist gives me permission to think outside that tired old proverbial box and find interesting and creative ways to live and communicate. I love the amazing way that communication can be enhanced through the arts. I love that the possibilities for finding new ways of being are endless as an artist.

At any point in life have you considered another career?

I don’t separate my work from my life. What I do in my life is all about creating an interesting and healthy lifestyle. It isn’t about financial success, obviously, but my life is spiritually rich. But to try to answer your question, I would probably have to say no — I have never seriously considered another path. The arts, whether I am talking about painting or writing or making music, have always been about some sort of philosophical or spiritual quest for me and on a lot of levels, connecting with other folk so it was a no brainer that I would work in the arts somehow.

As a girl in school in the 70’s, I wasn’t pushed into the sciences so I slid comfortably into the arts and literature departments of my school — and loved them. I am a seeker. It was a great fit! It seemed I could explore anything I wanted in those places! I think sometimes if I had been born a little bit later or into different circumstances, I might have gone into science. I am an Artist with hobbies in the sciences instead of a Scientist with hobbies in the arts. I think the thing I love about both professions would be that they are both about exploration, observation, and beauty.

The Moss Rock Festival has a focus on the natural environment, which is a central theme in your work. What draws you to these natural components?

We humans are a destructive lot, and we have made a lot of mistakes and done a lot of damage to the planet, which is trickling down to do some nasty things to human and wildlife communities. As a rule, we humans still see ourselves as separate from or above Nature. I don’t see it that way. I think we have done a really crappy job of honoring and protecting the place where we live.

I am just trying, in my very small and quiet way, to encourage people to slow down, pay attention to our place, and rethink our responsibility to our planet and our children by highlighting, either on gallery walls, at festivals, or through social media, the beautiful and delicate details of the world we call home. If people can come out to Moss Rock on a lovely autumn day and see one of my bird paintings or eco-dyed quilts and feel a little more love for the wilder world outside their air-conditioned houses and offices, then I have done my job. One small step in the right direction, right?

What advice would you give to Birmingham’s younger artists?

Believe in what you do! Work hard and often. Do not mimic. Find your own voice and understand your audience. Live in the work. Don’t make objects to sell. Make objects that connect dots and people. Love what you do! Be passionate!!