Unreal Realism by Tracy Kerdman

There’s something creepy about the art of Tracy Kerdman, a New York-based painter. It is very much about ordinary human bodies. It shows faces, limbs – of children, adults, old people. Just standing, staring or lying. Nothing momentous takes place in terms of action. And yet a strand of strangeness runs through all of these depictions. They are not quite right, you think. But you aren’t able to immediately figure out what exactly might be so wrong.

Where does this style come from? Tracy says, “I draw from my background of growing up in the low country of South Carolina, a place known for hospitality, and paradoxically, its bigotry. Figurative work is what drives my interest and helps me explore this idea of anxiety buried in normalcy. I am interested in the idea of what it is to ‘look normal.’ Working within the context of traditional figurative work, the goal is to create something unsettling and more disconcerting than academic representation.”

Tracy Kerdman

The works do not convey any specific message. At times, feels the artist, the audience has a better grip on what she says. People’s interpretations are really the last word.

“I refer to John Currin’s work more than that of any other visual artist,” continues Tracy, speaking of her influences. “Despite years of coming back to his paintings, I continue to learn from his figurative art. My work is also influenced by Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet, Caravaggio and Gerhard Richter, to name a few. Manet’s flat, saturated blocks of color taught me how to make volume in the figure out of solid colors, while Richter’s references showed me to be critical of everyday images and to incorporate that into my work. I look to Fairfield Porter and Luc Tuymans to remind myself to keep it simple, loosen it up and to embrace my brushstrokes when I become too polished and tight in my execution.”

Personally, Tracy doesn’t have any “romantic” views about painting. “The important thing for me is to just show up and to do the work,” she adds. “Push through the problems, and make sure not to fall into a particular formula, and to paint things outside of my comfort zone.”

Tracy obtained a BA from the College of Charleston in South Carolina in 2009. She later attended the National Academy Museum and School in New York. Her work has been exhibited across the US and overseas in Berlin, Toronto and Gimpo in South Korea. One of Tracy’s paintings “At My Real Job” appears as the cover of the novel The Paper Man (2015, Unnamed Press) by Los Angeles-based writer Gallagher Lawson.

Links: Website (www.tkerdman.com) | Tumblr (tracykerdman.tumblr.com) | Saatchi Art (www.saatchiart.com/tkerdman)

Images used with permission.


Tracy explains her series “People of Faux”: “This is about an imagined community of people. I liked to think, while making the work, that each painting could be a portrait in a doll’s house, where all of the right parts of a portrait are present, but something feels a little off. Representing a simulation of life, falling just short of the real thing. A type of realism that’s not quite real. Every subject in the portrait was either imagined or referenced from an online image or vintage photograph bought from an online shop on Etsy.”


A Little off the Top


Middle Part


Hands on Hips



Tracy on her series “Sterility”: “This one is a body of work with some of the paintings referenced around images of sex dolls: their hands, feet, face, etc. While the work was figurative – which is typically an intimate subject of painting – using these images made the work empty and, ‘sterile’. Though the paintings are of familiar and recognizable body parts, they are simultaneously impotent and lifeless. Other pieces in the series are cropped with flat swaths of paint, also referring to a sense of feeling hygienic and antiseptic.”




Natural Feeling





Other work:


Saturation Nation
Saturation Nation


The Offering