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 Michael Tracy  (1943 - )

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Lived/Active: Texas      Known for: painting, sculpture, photography, drawings-religious themes, mixed media

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Ad Code: 3
Michael Tracy
from Auction House Records.
Self-portrait stencil, 1998
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is an exhibition review published in The New York Times.

Art: Religious Works By Michael Tracy
Published: November 06, 1987

''MICHAEL TRACY: Terminal Privileges,'' currently at P. S. 1, and ''John McCracken: Heroic Stance.'' in the same galleries last year, are complementary shows. In both, the curator Edward Leffingwell has focused attention on an artist outside New York whose career defines a forceful and fertile response to Abstract Expressionism. Mr. McCracken's planks have something of the purity of the paintings of Barnett Newman, but they are cooler and less metaphysical, and his sculptural surface or skin is seamless and impenetrable.

The work of Mr. Tracy, on the other hand, which is being presented in depth in New York for the first time, is tremendously physical. Working in the Southwest that was so important to Jackson Pollock, this 44-year-old artist is determined to violate the pictorial and sculptural skin and release every feeling that may have been sealed or pent up inside it. The surfaces of his devotional paintings and sculptures - as small as reliquaries or as big as walls - may be torn, stabbed or cut. His need to make art that can embrace absolutely everything, from autobiography to superpower politics, has led to paintings, photographs and drawings dripping with blood and hair.

At the entrance to the exhibition is 'Icon of Despair, the first work Mr. Tracy made outdoors in San Ygnacio, Texas on the United States-Mexican border, where he has lived since 1978. A canvas mounted like an altarpiece is penetrated with spikes. The spikes are not only hammered into the front but also the back. And a cluster of them nestled behind the canvas seem to have festered to the point that a flap has peeled or been ripped off like dead skin.

The same gallery includes the more contemplative 'Stations of the Cross: To Latin America.'' They are vaguely suggestive of the monochromatic paintings of Milton Resnick, where a minimum of incident must carry a maximum of meaning. But even the quiet side of Mr. Tracy's work has a dismembered, dug-up, sacrificial quality. In the catalogue, Thomas McEvilley describes these works, split and lumpy with faults and swells, as ''tormented fields.'' It is as if the artist painted the Latin American earth on the verge of disgorging the human misery it has been forced to swallow.

There is almost nothing in this show that does not reflect his strict Roman Catholic upbringing. Mr. Tracy is passionate about Italian religious art, from Duccio to Caravaggio. He has continued to struggle with an issue that was central to the formation and development of abstract art. In an age in which the credibility and authority of organized religion has been increasingly challenged, how can the genuine religious impulse that has been dressed up in religious dogma be rescued and preserved?

Stripped of dogma, Mr. Tracy enters a realm in which big, conflicting feelings are not easily sorted out and tamed. Indeed, his work rejects clear distinctions between spirit and flesh, pleasure and pain, tenderness and violence. In his ''Caravaggio Notations,'' 14 photographs, covered by blood and paint and mounted on Mexican board, present a narrative of two naked men, their heads in stockings like criminals or victims, wrestling with each other in such a way that it is hard to tell where love and hate, bondage and release, begin and end.

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