by Dr. Christy Rodriguez de Conte
Tracy Foutz-Hunt layers paint and paper that tracks through the blueprints of railroad history. Using paint and perspective, Foutz-Hunt is able to connect her roots to her art at her first solo exhibit, Repurposed at City Hall.
Before the information highway carried data and discourse through cyberspace along with Amazon packages door to door, the United States railroads were responsible for disseminating information and connecting communities. Colonel John Stevens’ conception of railroad construction in 1812 eventually evolved into a real-life locomotive and a network of over 9,000 miles of track laid throughout the nation by 1850. In 1881 Roanoke, VA, known as the “Big Lick,” was selected as the rail hub and construction powerhouse of Shenandoah Valley and the Norfolk & Western railroads. Growing up in Roanoke, painter Tracy Foutz-Hunt was drawn to the lines, angles, and shapes she saw as she sat on the platform watching the trains ride the rails in and out of town. Her most famous series, so far, features many oil paintings that reflect the power and motion of a train and the places it visits. Foutz-Hunt elaborates upon her obsession with trains, “Both sides of the family worked for the railroad. Roanoke was unique. They made their own steam locomotives, their own factories, and [their own] iron shops. My granddaddy was a machinist – he worked for the railroad for fifty years,” shared Foutz-Hunt. “I must mention the thing I like about railroads is the hard objects, the shapes. It’s easy; a circle and a line can make a whole painting, just out of circles and lines.”
A self-taught artist who lived in the mountains, Foutz-Hunt used textbooks and encyclopedias as a means to access art. She traveled to art museums in big cities across the county and found a new respect for art and its makers. Inspired by 1920s, 30s, and 40s artists like gothic painter Grant Wood and American modernist Charles Sheeler, Foutz-Hunt developed her unique style and process. “I like to try a little bit of everything. I grew up on a mountain. So we had limited access. We couldn’t just go to town because it was a little bit of a ways. So getting art supplies was hard,” says Foutz-Hunt. “I started with pencils and watercolors. It wasn’t till later [that I found] how watercolors can work for me.” Although Foutz-Hunt considers herself more of a realist, she believes that every well-constructed painting is still an abstract piece of art. Foutz-Hunt always intends to balance a painting’s hues, darks, lights, and composition. “That’s always been my goal,” declares Foutz-Hunt.
Foutz-Hunt worked as an illustrator for the water management district, creating graphics for their brochures and annual reports. Yet, Foutz-Hunt can not help but be drawn to a blank canvas. She approaches each piece with a sketched-out thumbnail of what she wants drawn to scale with a clear color study to support her vision. Foutz-Hunt’s method remains the same whether it is a small canvas, a mural, or a live-painted piece. “I still have to go through the same process. You really can’t take any shortcuts. I have taken shortcuts before, and it’s not successful,” admits Foutz-Hunt. Foutz-Hunt enjoys gallery shows and painting privately commissioned pieces, but her favorite place to paint and share her work is at the Forgotten Coast Plein Air Festival. Considered “America’s Great Paint-out,” this ten-day festival brings nationally acclaimed artists to paint an original piece within a two-hour window for all to witness. “I usually participate in the quick draw – pick out a space and paint,” says Foutz-Hunt. “I’ve sold things off the easel before. It’s interesting; people who are not artists don’t know how paintings are constructed from a blank canvas to a study or finished product. It’s interesting to hear their comments. Painting out in public, I don’t mind doing it. It’s fun because people recognize the location, so they want something that reminds them of the location and the experience.”
Foutz-Hunt’s recent artistic reflections on the railroad serve as an intersectional conversation between history and art. “I had some old papers, blueprints, that I had and collected. I decided I was going to mount them on a board with big [transparent] shapes over it. Transparent so you don’t lose any of the drawings,” describes Foutz-Hunt. “Blueprints are a copy of an original drawing. It’s kind of a neat throwback to all the draftsmen in history. Someone had to draw this to scale with a slide ruler to figure this out. It’s a throwback to my grandfather, who was a machinist and had to take the blueprint to make huge stuff and dwindle it down to 1000th of an inch. Back then, they had to hand-make stuff. It’s a throwback to that history.”
Foutz-Hunt describes her process as freeing. Although the blueprint paper is delicate and will break when unfolded, she believes even if you mess up, it’s not too fatal because every “mistake” is an opportunity to try something new. She believes blueprints are a method of communication with revisions and adjustments. The work reflects themes and images in conversation with the diagrams, like painting an iron horse on top of a railroad blueprint while also creating a juxtaposition with shapes and scale. All work is then protected with a UV marine protective varnish. “The oldest one I have is dated 1890. Back then, printing wasn’t standardized. It’s pretty; it showed people cared.” For her, creating the show is “..a little bit of artwork and a consideration of my little part here.” For the rest of us, Tracy Foutz-Hunt’s first solo show at City Hall will leave you wondering how blueprints can carry such emotional history.
Read the rest of the article on the Tallahassee Democrat.
View more information on “Repurposed”