Tick Talk: Craig Tracy – Beauty from Destruction

craig tracy

Craig Tracy is a world-champion bodypainter artist. He is one of three judges, along with Robin Slonina and RuPaul, on Game Show Network‘s television program Skin Wars  hosted by supermodel and X-men star, Rebecca Romijn.  The show recently renewed for its third season. Working from his gallery in the French Quarter on Royal Street, New Orleans, Craig’s stunning art is known worldwide. He poses human models against backdrops to create double trompe-l’œil compositions – simultaneously disguising the human form while using it to create a completely different painted image.

Apart from maintaining the world’s first bodypainting art gallery, Craig travels the world as a judge and instructor at bodypainting festivals and competitions. He took time out from this intense schedule to discuss an emotionally intense, life-changing time: his experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina.

On Friday, August 26th, 2005, Craig was watching satellite tracking of Katrina on the internet. “I remember looking at it and seeing a storm bigger than anything that I’d ever seen,” he says. “There were many hurricanes that people would just stay for – you just batten down the hatches, you secure everything and you just ride it through and then you deal with the damage after. And sometimes storms give very little damage because they turn at the last minute.”

It was at this point that Craig made the decision to evacuate with his then girlfriend. “I spent about eight hours preparing my two story house. Moving things, securing things and figuring out exactly what I wanted to take with me if I were to lose everything.” On Sunday, August 28th, he drove to Sandestin, Florida. He counted over one hundred large utility trucks with cranes travelling in the opposite direction. “Seeing that many of those emergency type vehicles going into the city as we’re going out had a profound effect on me. It was like they were rushing into the fire and we were rushing out.”

Katrina began to make landfall that night, and Craig recalls “The wind was so strong where I was that you could barely push a door open to the outside. So you were dealing with tropical storm winds which I would guess are between 40 and 60 mph and you just can’t believe that you’re that far away and it’s that strong, the scale of it hits your brain and you go ‘holy shit’ what’s it like where it’s actually hitting, where the winds are 100 – 120 mph?”

However, it was late on Monday when reports of flooding in New Orleans began to be broadcast. “We all thought that we had survived, everything seemed to be fine and then it was hours later that reports of flooding started – and then your brain doesn’t register it, you’re going, ‘But the storm passed 8 or 10 hours ago, what’re you talking about, flooding?’ And then you understand the dynamics of the levees breaking and the water being so high. Then it was all just hellish… I’m in a beautiful place, we have restaurants, electricity, plumbing, hot water, television, and you’re thinking about this whole city being filled up with this corrosive water.”

As the huge scale of devastation in New Orleans began to become apparent, Craig arrived at a decision. “When I realized the city was literally destroyed, I realized the scale of it… and I chose to handle it well,” he remembers. “I decided that I wasn’t going to cry and feel horrible looking at network news everyday, so I decided that … we would explore our country. So I just went on to Orlando, then Atlanta, then North Carolina, then Washington D.C.”

I’m living in a house that’s damaged, I’m living in a neighborhood that’s damaged, and then I’m living in a city that’s destroyed.

It was a month after Katrina that Craig returned to his hometown. His house, in the suburbs, had been only mildly flooded, and none of his important possessions had been lost, but the floors and walls had to be stripped back due to water damage. In addition, he had no work; the shopping mall where his studio was located would not reopen for another month. “So I’m left for two months without work, I’m living in a house that’s damaged, I’m living in a neighborhood that’s damaged, and then I’m living in a city that’s destroyed.” Craig found himself becoming depressed – meanwhile his girlfriend had returned to work and he was spending all day, every day, alone with nothing to do. He decided to begin a creative project. “I thought about all of the artists that were out of work and I created a mural project that would involve 50 artists.” He worked intensely to create a pitch that was taken all the way to the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development, but then another opportunity arose – one which he could not refuse: he signed the lease on his art gallery on Royal Street.

Paisley Blue bodypainting

“I felt like I fell in love, deeply in love, with the city again, because my gallery is located in the middle of the French Quarter, so now I’m spending all my time, ten to twelve hours a day there, every day, seven days a week while the city is recovering from a disaster.” It was a difficult time; there was no tourism to provide trade, many municipal services were still not functioning, and many businesses simply closed their doors. “That’s how I got my location, because so many businesses just left. They just left, they gave up. Then I’m saying ‘I’m not giving up, I’m gonna plant myself here, I’m gonna invest here, and fuck you for giving up.’ … People used to come in every day and just thank me for being open, and thank me for sharing beauty, which is what I do for a living, you know. And I would just look at them and go ‘This is my home, of course I’m going to do this.’”

nature scene bodypaint

My life and my mission is not to honour and memorialize the disaster that was Katrina.

Even amongst those in the artistic community who stayed in New Orleans, many began to create images related to Katrina’s devastation. This was another pivotal moment of decision for Craig; “I chose not to do that because I didn’t want to live in that negative place. The storm was a negative place and I didn’t want to recapture it. Now, I scrapbooked the storm, I bought every national magazine … because I knew this was something I wanted to share with future generations, but I didn’t want it to share it in the same way 90% of the artists in the city did which is painting disaster paintings. What I did instead was try to focus on beauty and positivity and just move forward. … My life and my mission is not to honour and memorialize the disaster that was Katrina.”

Craig believes fiercely in the culture and authenticity of New Orleans, and that belief has brought him to a flourishing present. His gallery is thriving. He creates beauty each day. He is an integral part of the “beating heart” of his city.

Craig Tracy Gallery, New Orleans

Craig Tracy Fine Art Bodypainting Gallery, New Orleans

YES bodypainting image

Take a virtual tour through The Craig Tracy Gallery and next time you’re in the Big Easy stop on by in person.
The Craig Tracy Gallery
827 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116

For more information on Craig Tracy click here:

Mars Blomgren

Mars Blomgren

Maureen "Mars" Blomgren is a writer, photographer, painter and social media overlord. Mars is a loyal servant to her Pekingese named Henry. Her work can be seen on album covers, posters, commissioned paintings, branding, merchandise and more. Mars has one of those new-fangled #blendedfamilies that she loves. Mars supports & promotes live music, animals and the truth. She is a proud Philly Girl that will defend the underdog till the end.
Mars Blomgren
Emma Connolly

Emma Connolly

Emma lives in England. Ace the dog keeps her feet and heart warm while she writes about music and culture.
Emma Connolly

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