Lining the walls of Tracy Murrell’s Westview studio are dozens of books showcasing her favorite artists. She gently picks them up and shares a sentiment for each one: “I’m always studying Romare Bearden.” “I’ll buy anything Deb Willis puts out.” “I like how Gary Hume addresses a figure with negative space.”
An avid student of contemporary art, Murrell made it her career after first working in nonprofits and music marketing. But looking back on her childhood in Biloxi, she realizes the draw was perhaps inevitable. Her pen pal and great-aunt Sara used to create watercolor paintings in the corners of their letters. Another great-aunt was married to internationally acclaimed painter Elton Clay Fax. As a child, she tried to mimic their styles, but at the time, she was more focused on becoming a marine biologist than an artist.
As an adult, she discovered the work of Black cartoonist Jackie Ormes, whose jet-setting character Torchy Brown was nationally syndicated during the early 20th century. Torchy became the inspiration for Murrell’s dark blue figures. Throughout her work, she uses ink, decorative papers, tile, resin, and high-gloss enamel to render silhouettes of Black women against vibrant colors.
“It’s a way to introduce the Black figure without the negative association with the color black,” Murrell says. “She’s bringing grace and confidence. Blue has always meant peace and tranquility to me, and it’s just that simple. You can put any color next to it, and there’s a shade of blue where there’s harmony.”
Now, Murrell is exploring how Black women move through the world from a global perspective. She has a solo exhibition coming up at Hammonds House Museum—Dans l’espoir d’un Avenir Meilleur (In Hope for a Better Future) . . . Exploring Haitian Migration—which will focus on the islanders’ flight to Tijuana after their homeland was devastated by earthquakes and hurricanes. In 2019, she participated in a residency program in Morocco, where she was embedded with immigrants from Sierra Leone and Cameroon, inspiring her to explore the lives of migrant women. Murrell says that she wants to see her art “20 feet tall and all around the world.”
“There are no color boundaries in art. It either speaks to you or it doesn’t speak to you,” Murrell says. “If you like it and you want it to be a part of your life, then it’s for you.”
Murrell’s work is currently on view at the Dalton Gallery at Agnes Scott College in partnership with Atlanta Printmakers Studio. tracymurrell.com
This article appears in our Spring 2021 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.