Tracey reproduces her thought-provoking and impressive artwork as vibrant originals, greeting cards, books, bags, and jackets. Tracey’s inspirational greeting cards caught my attention when I stepped into the Fresh Paint Studio and Café which she owns along with her husband. I decided to sit down for Women’s month and find out more about this trailblazing artist.
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Broad question but in your own words, who is Roxane Tracey?
Visual artist, poet, wife, mother, business owner…ahhh…I wear so many other hats. Someone inspired to do work and create art that is empowering to women and the community in general. As an artist, I believe your work should uplift and empower others. I have a love for creating the work and sharing that experience with others.
The first thing that caught my attention were the greeting cards, where you mix both poetry and visual art. How did that come about?
I have always loved books. My earliest artistic memories are of me on the floor of the library or under the blanket with a book reading. So, I have always been a writer. It started with poems and then spoken word. One day I sat down to write a poem and it brought an image to mind and it started from there. The visual art came into play as a complement to the words. The words and the images work in tandem to inspire each other and tell the story. Some artists may disagree because words on art is removing the process of interpretation, but it is a different kind of art and there isn’t one way to experience it.
Let’s talk about that more… turning your art into a business.
It has been an interesting journey. You get advice from everybody. Most of which is to keep the art close to you but as it goes along you figure out what works for you. You get accused of diluting the art, spreading it too thin or commercializing it. So you get a lot of advice- more of it bad than good.
For me, it had to be more than just selling a piece of art here and there. That’s not able to support me as a business because I have bills and as an artist I believe strongly in accessibility. So, I started thinking of other avenues for my art. In that way the art travels without me, so my goal is achieved, regardless. So I started with prints and then the greeting cards. They were a huge launching pad for me and then it just grew from there. It is really important to choose your own path. You have to eat. You have to pay bills and you shouldn’t feel judged for that. So, I am successful because I am an artist on my own terms and continually doing what’s comfortable for me.
And you have created another avenue in Fresh Paint, tell us about that.
I have always had a studio and in creating this studio I wanted it to have multiple uses. We’ve been open a month. I wanted to create a place for people to come, no experience required, and be free to express themselves. You can do it on your own or you can take a class. We have all the supplies you need here- the canvas, the paint, the space and you paint and express yourself. So, I wanted to create a community social space where people could relax and express. Parents and their kids, partners, friends. We have the café if you want to grab a treat while you’re at it. It has also created a place to display and sell my own work. We are open for events. For the serious artist and some just looking to have some fun. The opening was overwhelming in a good way. The community really has embraced us as their own.
What’s it like being a black owner in a predominantly white community?
It never leaves my thought. There aren’t many of us visible owners in the Downtown Toronto area. How the perception of me or my appearance plays into the space and how it is received. But once someone gets to explore the space and understand it, they get it. When we chose this space on the Danforth, we booked at a few communities. Ultimately, we needed somewhere that could double as a living space. And so far the community has been really good.
There has to be some kind of push and pull though, balancing art and a business, especially with the café.
As you came in, I was working on a piece. It’s an ongoing struggle; it is definitely a balancing act that I have been working through. Balancing my art and my artistic needs with the community space and the people that use that space. You have to make time. It is important not to lose the artist to the job even though they’re connected.
Another balancing act, how challenging is it to be a mom and entrepreneur?
Being a mother and an entrepreneur of a fairly young daughter definitely has its challenges. For example, I remember when my daughter was 6 months old she came with me to one of my art shows. No matter what was happening she had to be my first priority. I had to change her, feed her and take care of her. I had done many shows before but having her definitely changed my perspective on a lot of things. I want to be the best mom I can be and she has been great through it all. I am lucky like that. She isn’t fussy. Her ability to be outside for long periods and cooperate is extraordinary. So, she keeps me on my toes and making it work requires some adjustments. It means letting go of what a regular work day looks like. When she sleeps, I work.
And a supportive partner. I couldn’t have done any of this without him. There are so many moving parts and you need that support network to get it all done. I wanted to be a full-time mom until she started school. So, I think about that. I want her to never feel neglected. I struggled with her going to daycare but I needed her to see me doing this. That’s really important to me. And understand that something has to give. You can’t be a superwoman all the time. It is impossible to do everything at a high level all at once.
Would you encourage your daughter to follow a similar path?
I pull from my own experience. I have very traditional West Indian parents and it is shocking to some people but they have always been very supportive. I did the school thing. I went to York University where I got a degree in journalism. I worked. I was always pursuing my artistic endeavours- poetry, spoken word etc. They came to all my shows. They were always there for me. They were my cheerleaders. So, they fully supported me when I said I was going to open a studio. They never questioned my art; they always celebrated it. I have a responsibility to pass that along. I know how difficult being an artist is so I am definitely torn but I never want to stifle her spirit. You need to nurture people’s creative spirit no matter what they’re doing so, I will always encourage her.
Roxane Tracey is proof that having it all isn’t impossible. It is a series of careful and often difficult choices. Beyond the choices however, is the community. Through sharing her art, her passion and her life with the community, Tracey reminds us that we are a part of something greater than ourselves.