The Universal Search, Seeking Human Kindness - Tracy Casagrande Clancy

Bucky Ignatius

Recently featured at Studio Kroner was a one-woman show by Cincinnati-based multi-media artist Tracy Casagrande Clancy, whose mission statement started with this premise: “This show is a product of my ever-growing sense that there is an unbreakable thread that runs through all of existence…A connection that is grounded in love and compassion and includes all creation.’’ That said, she states her mission in a single sentence. “My deepest hope is to spark awareness of this inescapable interconnectedness of all that is, and to encourage viewers to embrace their own Atomic Love experiences.” 

While Clancy’s imaginative range of encaustic mixed-media techniques both defends her premise and explores and illuminates her concept of Atomic Love, language and fabric play significant roles as well. Upon entering the gallery, visitors are asked to help each other tie a bracelet around their left wrist from short lengths of braided red thread provided, as a symbol of protection and reminder “that we are all connected.” Overhead, a long strand of loosely twisted fabric meanders about, effectively bringing a visual sense of unity to the three very distinct groups of art on display below. The artist’s posted mission statement and extensive notes about sources of her inspiration underpin both her motivation and mission, which are essential to why she has presented this show. Viewers are well rewarded for taking time to read them. 

Photo Credit: Mike Svach Photography

Six wall-mounted headless busts in the show were part of a series of twenty life-size sculptures titled “Collective Memory” (encaustic mixed-media on plaster) that were conceived and created by Clancy in pandemic isolation and finished in early 2022. They were first shown at ART BASEL: Miami in June of that year. The artist recounts that one of her proudest moments was the acquisition of Esmerelda by the International Encaustic Museum in Sante Fe, New Mexico, where she remains on exhibit in their permanent collection. I see this agora of women as the midwives who caught and cut the cords for the offspring that make up the rest of this show.  Beyond that, they speak for themselves. 

Travelers Infinite Jest
Photo Credit: Mike Svach Photography
Higher Self
Photo Credit: Mike Svach Photography

A series of twenty-five free-standing sculptures (encaustic mixed-media with found objects) stand on shared pedestals along one wall of the gallery’s central room. They range in height from 6” to 39”, randomly placed like a diverse group of neighbors gathering in a narrow backyard. Almost all have humanoid aspects with found objects conjuring either body parts or personality traits. While this series clearly owes a debt to conceptual art, Clancy’s aesthetic prevails. There is humor, but it is subtle and gentle. “Traveler’s Infinite Jest” rests on wheels wearing a dunce cap. Some are philosophical, others, deeply personal. Many found objects come straight from nature. There are porcupine quills and rusted nails, but structural lines are softened with curves, conveying grace and balance. Nothing is garish, nothing feels coarse. These figures carry a sense of being related, but each is distinctly different from the others. They are unique and individual, just like us.

Photo Credit: Mike Svach Photography

The front room of the gallery is hung with Clancy’s paintings (all wax infused work, mostly encaustic mixed-media, some with cold wax application as well.) On one long wall a series of a dozen 12” x 12” paintings are encased in identical floater frames that emphasize the layering of the work. Most have pale yellow or cream shades as backgrounds serving to enhance the subject matter in the foreground. But these backgrounds and foregrounds are far from binary, more like placements on the continua of time and space merged in a translucent fog where new images emerge the more attentive the viewer becomes. Shadowy silhouettes are a common motif, butterfly and dragonfly wings, both prominent and nearly subliminal, recur. There are figurative elements, some skeletal, some more fleshed out, all speak to the premise of interconnection.

Universal Search
Photo Credit: Mike Svach Photography

Paintings with sizes graduating up to 40” x 40” fill the opposite wall and the small partial wall that divides the front and back rooms of the gallery. The same virtuoso use of layering is multiplied by the larger size of birch panels or canvas that Clancy’s imagination and vision fill. Paintings titled “All Under the Same Blue Sky” and “Not the Only One” again call on silhouettes in communion and the words “Human Like You”, which also serves as the title of a celebratory 30” x 40” cold wax on canvas piece. “Hiraeth”, one of the two abstract pieces in the show, evokes both beauty and mourning. The term has no pinpoint translation in English, “a nostalgic longing for a place which can never be revisited” comes close, and there are numerous Welshmen easy to find online who will teach you how to pronounce the term, so long as you can gently roll the r. This painting, and the other abstract “Map of the Intangible” encourage the owner to make their own decisions about which way is up, down, right, or left. The forerunner of all these paintings, was started in 2020 and finished this year, and is titled “Universal Search.” My eye was drawn first to a large sign, words hand-printed in all caps, SEEKING HUMAN KINDNESS. Below, the same sign appears, partly obscured by layers of colors once bright, but darkened as if by street dirt or soot. Only lastly did I see at the top, above eye level, a man’s face. A homeless beggar it seemed, head bowed forward, eyes cast down, maybe closed, bearded chin resting on the sign. At the opening, I watched several visitors approach this painting and observed their gaze drawn first to the sign in the center, move down to the second sign, and only then see the man, or often move on without noticing him as I had done on my first visit a few days earlier. Later I mentioned this to Paul Kroner who told me that he too had not seen the man until several days after the opening. Yet once seen, he can’t be missed. He’s the buried lead, the centerpiece. Bearded, scruffy indeed but radiating a powerful blend of resigned serenity that softened my heart and brought tears to my eyes. The universal search, seeking human kindness. My own vestige of atomic love.

As I began to write this review, I arranged with the gallery to spend time there alone, to take snapshots, flesh out notes and allow my observations to marinate. By my third visit, I was thinking less about writing a review, and more about successfully convincing my inner “adult in the room” to loosen my budget strings. I came back to purchase a painting the next day. I was far from alone. A post on the Gallery’s Facebook page showed Clancy and Kroner with wide smiles, holding an empty piece of paper. The post captioned: “We’re out of red dots!” At Clancy’s artist’s talk, and again at her closing reception, SRO crowds of admirers gathered to celebrate her presence on the Cincinnati art scene. She is taking a well-deserved travel break with her family, but will return to her Pendleton Art Center studio thereafter. Stay tuned.