What’s Left: Tracey Bullington in the Studio

January 31, 2019 by

From the onset, the openness of the unpunctuated title to the artist’s book, What’s Left conjures a double meaning. Is it a question? Is it a statement? Does it need to be either? Less ambiguous however is the nostalgia, longing and memory embedded in these two words, What’s Left, inviting viewers into the narrative within the pages.

Tracey Bullington is an artist and educator from New Orleans, Louisiana. Working at the intersection of these two fields, Tracey collaborated with thirteen high school students between 2017 and 2018, unfurling the symbolic and tangible significance of specific objects in their lives. The project titled What’s Left began as a series of interviews with students who had immigrated to the United States from nine different countries. Each of the thirteen participants shared a story describing the history and circumstances around the most memorable object they left behind when moving to the United States. These interviews then formed the source material for a series of black-and-white woodcut prints originally produced as gifts for the participants. The project since evolved and took up the artist’s book form in an edition of fifty books published at the Women’s Studio Workshop.

“With this work, I want to be careful that I am not making a statement or speaking for people who aren’t here to speak for themselves.My role in the work and my relationship with the students is clear and it is important to nail the right tone. My goal is to document the exchange and draw viewers into the story and relationship that was shared through the object.”

What’s Left consists of thirteen uniform woodcut prints executed in two colors. Each of these pages also locates the country and city in which the object was left behind and a brief statement from the student’s interview. The economy of text allows the viewer to develop their own entry points into the images while the specificity of location enhances the singular experience of each student and their narrated object. The book’s endsheets are also woodcut prints illustrating the classroom in which the interviews took place therefore grounding the stories shared in a physical space. For further context into the process, the book also includes brief essay giving further insight into Tracey’s teaching practice and her goal to build community and share stories in a classroom setting.

Prior to the ten-week residency, Tracey had been teaching full-time over the past four years. Utilizing the uninterrupted time to create the artist’s book, she immersed herself in a rigorous process of experimentation, evaluation and feedback with staff at the Women’ Studio Workshop. Tracey refined each of her stylistic choices considering and reconsidering the title, the color of each print, typeface and a balance of image and text create the most successful presentation of the idea.

“When coming up with 20 different ways to do something, sometimes I find something that is better and other times it is right back to the beginning. Either way I reaffirmed the decisions I am making.”

Furthermore, to create a unified reading of the text and images, Tracey established a narrative arc by ordering the prints to follow a sequence of leaving their home country to arriving in the United States. For example, some of the earlier illustrations in the book allude to leaving in a rush, and not being good at goodbyes while later in the book, the images are accompanied by statements such as Starting Over, Starting New and Isn’t the same here.

Trained as a printmaker, and working in the artist’s book form for the first time, Tracey could not be happier with the complementarity of the two forms. “The history of printmaking coincided with a greater accessibility of knowledge as a result of the ease in reproduction . . . and the artist book form serves as a record, an archive, that even as society is tenuous and unstable; artists’ books aren’t going anywhere.”

Tracey Bullington is an artist and educator from New Orleans, Louisiana. She works primarily in woodcut, a process in which images are carved from a sheet of wood, rolled with ink, and printed onto paper. In addition to woodcuts, Tracey creates drawings, videos, and poems. She is also a high school art teacher in the New Orleans area.Tracey received her BFA from Tufts University in partnership with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 2013. She received her MAT in art education from Tufts University in 2014.