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Tracy Lee Stum ~ India         Contributor -- California

Tracy Lee Stum in India, Antaragni 09

Tracy Lee Stum is an internationally recognized talent whose versatile and exceptional abilities excel in the realms of painting, drawing, street painting and decorative design. A visionary and leader in these creative arenas, Tracy’s wealth of experience, expertise and imagination makes her one of the most highly sought after working artists in her respective oeuvres today.

Considered by Madonnari peers, festival directors and viewers among the finest street painters today, Tracy has participated as an invited featured artist in many festivals and events in the US and internationally. Her paintings have won numerous awards & accolades and she currently holds a Guinness World Record for the largest street painting by an individual, which was set in 2006. Best known for her spectacular 3D anamorphic and interactive street paintings, Tracy is actively creating commissioned works in chalk for leaders in the advertising, events, corporate and educational sectors. 






Luciole Press Interview:

Tracy Lee Stum speaks with Karen Bowles

LP: Since last we spoke for LP, you went on an incredible journey to India, where you created more magnificent artworks and served as a guest visiting artist to teach street painting to high school and college level students, as well as professional artists in 5 major cities. Wow! Firstly, tell us how this opportunity arose.


TLS: This most recent trip was initiated last year during my first visit as a participating artist at Festival Mood Indigo 2008 - IIT Bombay. I had been invited there to create street painting demos and an interactive street painting workshop program for the festival participants. Several of the student organizers from IIT Kanpur were in attendance at Mood I, and after seeing the enthusiastic response to the program I had presented, decided to invite me to their campus this year for Antaragni, their student-managed cultural fest. At the conclusion of Mood I last year, the US Consulate had asked me to stay on in India for a few extra days to conduct the same workshops at several of the prominent art colleges around Mumbai. Because of the success of that program, the Mumbai office recommended an extended tour including all the US Consulate posts throughout India as a means to provide provide exposure to street painting as a component to their cross cultural arts exchange program. As last year, my appearance was graciously sponsored by the American Center of the US Consulate in India.
(2008 - Mumbai office; 2009 - New Delhi office)






LP: What were the 5 cities that you visited? How long did you stay in each city?


TLS: I visited Kanpur, which was home of IIT Kanpur and Antaragni; and the other remaining US Consulate posts in New Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata (Calcutta). I spent 8 days in Kanpur for Antaragni, then 3 or 4 days each for the other 4 cities.



LP: Did you ship your materials to India, or make use of local material?


TLS: I did ship my materials via American Airline - basically packed everything in extra suitcases or boxes and paid for extra baggage. There was no faster way to get it there. This also proved to be economical as compared to shippers like UPS, FedEx or DHL. I didn’t count on local supplies since I wasn’t aware of what I could find in each city. I knew art supplies tend to be costly in India, based on my previous trip last year, so I brought just about everything with me. Some of the artists I met in New Delhi very generously brought me some chalk supplies that are used locally, which was cool. And I did make it to a fairly good art supply store in Chennai, but again the selection for product was limited compared to what we have available to us in the US. Something interesting about artists in India - because they don’t have limited ‘ready made’ materials available, and supplies are expensive, many student artists tend to make everything they use and work with when creating a work of art. I mean they find the wood to make stretcher bars to mount with fabric or canvas; make the paints or pigments they are using, make the paper they work on - it’s a very traditional approach to art making but also very laborious! It’s kind of miraculous that the work gets made and humbling to know that they surmount all of these obstacles just to get their vision completed! I’m sure they are out there but I personally don’t know any painters or printmakers in the US who take their work from concept to completion this way.










LP: Please tell us what the Antaragni (meaning ‘The Fire Within’) festival was like from your viewpoint. What was your role as a participating artist? Do they invite many artists from around the world to participate in the festival?


TLS: Antaragni is a free, student-organized cultural festival, open to all college level students in India. 2009 was their Golden Jubilee anniversary, celebrating 50 years of providing this event. The festival takes place over 4 days and boasts competitions, exhibitions, workshops, live musical performances and entertainment. I was invited to present street painting workshops throughout the day (in traditional and 3D formats) along with creating a demo painting. Yes, there were some other artists from all over the world at this festival, including sand sculptors from Miami, dancing from Indonesia and a heavy metal act from Dublin, Ireland.




LP: What subjects did you choose for your street paintings? Is there a lot of enthusiasm for street painting in India?


TLS: The organizing committee asked me to present a few painting concepts, which I was happy to do. They chose the images they liked, which were all very fantastic and youth-oriented -- think video games, comic book and movie references. I wound up creating an image of a sea monster (imagine Kraken from Pirates of the Caribbean) creeping up out of the pavement, disposing of unsuspecting students passing by. Interactive images like this are always a hit with the viewers, so I had a lot of fun with this one during photo ops. Yes, there is so much enthusiasm for street painting in India -- students, professors, children, parents, just everyone. Tobie, my assistant, and I were blown away by the response on campus. An example of the enthusiasm shown can be illustrated as follows: Anil was a grounds keeper on campus whose territory included our street painting area. He came by day after day, gently removing leaves and dirt that had littered the painting at night, always taking care never to disturb the artwork. When asked why he was so attentive he told us that in the 18 years that he had worked there on campus, he had never seen anything so interesting or amazing as the 3D street painting! That comment made it all worthwhile for me. The 3D street painting that I practice is relatively new in India, however street art has been a part of this country’s heritage for centuries. What I’m referring to is the rich tradition of ephemeral art already existing in India -- namely Rangoli (pigmented sand/marble dust) painting, deity- oriented street chalk paintings (depicting Hindu Gods for festivals) and Buddhist sand painting.











LP: Most of the students you taught at IIT Kanpur were not artists, coming instead from scientific, mathematic, and engineering disciplines. What drew them to your workshops?


TLS: This was a way for them to delve into the free creative aspects of themselves. It was probably a bit of a mental holiday -- like taking a break from using one side of the brain and switching to the other. Drawing has a way of engaging anyone who is looking for exploration and freedom. I had many ‘students’ (Math PhDs, Aerospace Engineers, Bio-Chemistry students, etc.) who returned each day to make sure they were there to experience the entire process of bringing a painting to life, from start to finish.  



LP: Did you find that the students felt like art was an important and respected part of life, irregardless of professional aspirations?  


TLS: Absolutely. Art is valued there as much as it is in other parts of the

world - it’s a personal choice however. Not everyone wanted to draw but many

people did. Many of the students belonged to the Fine Arts Club, where they take the initiative to draw, paint, sculpt, photograph, etc. in their spare time. Accordingly they have regular exhibits and installations of their work on campus.


I have often noticed in the US that many people are expected to demarcate their lives in such a way that arts are almost superfluous and not regarded as an important part of every day experience. It’s great to hear that so many students that did not have an arts focus took your workshops.   

TLS: It’s like that in India as well, to some extent. Students are expected to stay focused on the course of study they have committed to. Most people are so busy working, achieving, succeeding, that any activities that don’t apparently support that pursuit are discarded. As I mentioned in my last article with Luciole, art has been proven to be relevant in the development of society, so any chance I can get to expose people to the workings of what I do, the better. That being said, I have observed that people are fascinated by artistic process no matter what their background. You find evidence of this at the many street painting festivals I participate in annually. I think that if a street painting workshop was offered at most colleges around the world, you’d have takers. What was markedly noticeable to me at all of the colleges I visited was the level of focus and commitment exercised by the Indian students when engaging in the workshops.









LP: You mentioned working with the campus Fine Arts Club, who were preparing for their own exhibits. Please tell us about their work.


TLS: The Fine Arts Club was another student organization that promotes individual and collective artistic expression. Students work in cross- medium disciplines: drawing, painting, traditional arts and crafts (like miniature painting from Rajasthan), sculpture, photography, collage and assemblage. Their work included many different styles and approaches. Pencil drawings & acrylic paintings were very popular, especially portraits, as were en plein air watercolors. The students are also very fond of and support graffiti art, which led to an exhibit of 6 or 7 large graffiti style ‘paintings’ on the exterior walls around the campus. These were done with spray cans and oil paint. Tagging style and classic hip hop themes were the image styles of choice.




LP: The campus was transformed into a “vibrant cultural mecca” with diverse and exuberant offerings of music, art, fashion and culture. It sounds fantastic! Take us there… tell us a few stories!


TLS: Well, let’s see - the ambience of the event was one that buzzed with energy. Because it’s on the open campus there were students everywhere, mostly on bicycles, which were everywhere. Also, ox carts, tuk tuks, motorcycles and man -powered rickshaws populated the avenues. Busses would pull up and offload hordes of students, with knapsacks and duffle bags in tow. I believe there were about 9,000 students in attendance this year, all camping out in various dorms, guest houses and common areas -- the enthusiasm and excitement were contagious. As for attractions, Tobie and I were able to witness a very funny theatrical comedy spoof, showcased on the main stage, of students satirizing their classmates and the stereotypes that go with attending IIT schools. We also were guests of honor at a Bollywood music night -- Advaita was a jazz act from New Delhi and Sitar Funk, from the UK, provided electric sitar jazz. We were also on hand for a concert by KK, one of India’s biggest Bollywood pop stars. Along with this, we witnessed dance competitions, art competitions, poetry and film symposiums, and heard but did not see some of the musical competitions (we were too far away to attend). The local campus canteen proved to be a great place to hang out and meet students, discussing their impressions about the event and our mutual interest in each other’s cultures. It was very easy to find someone to share a cup of chai tea, no matter what time of day or night. 








LP: The second phase of your trip was a series of workshops around the country

sponsored by the American Center, through the US Consulate. What did these

workshops consist of?


TLS: I was asked to provide workshops demonstrating and teaching 3D street painting theory and application to college and high school level students in each city.




LP: Were you functioning as both teacher and artist in these as well?


TLS: Yes, I usually created a demo painting in conjunction with the workshops in each location. It’s amazing how many students we were able to include! The American Center had scheduled new groups of schools every day in New Delhi, so the impact of the program could be as wide reaching as possible. I think I had an average of 60 students a day, over the course of 3 days - about 180 students.




LP: What goals did the American Center have in sponsoring the workshops?


TLS: They are interested in establishing cross cultural exchanges, specifically highlighting ‘the vitality, originality and technical skills of an American artist’ (as quoted from Juliet Wurr, Public Affairs Officer, Consulate General of the United States, Hyderabad, India) with the local communities, and what better way to do this than through the arts, with young people? Because street painting is so popular now due to the viral emails that have gone around the world in the last few years, most students know about it. If they hadn’t heard about it, they quickly became interested once they realized what we were up to. I believe that the appeal is the sense of freedom associated with delving into an urban guerilla-style art form-- art for the masses, art for the average guy, done by the average guy, that’s accessible.


Skip on the chair


Workshop 1


Workshop 2



LP: You mentioned something to me about not taking your computer with you because you worried about breaking it during camel camping… elaborate on this adventure, please!


TLS: I almost always take my computer (definitely my Blackberry) with

me when embarking on street painting adventures. I find it easier for me to stay up-to-date with my website, blog, and social networking sites this way. But in this instance I thought twice about it, and here’s why. My friends and I had planned to take a tour of Rajasthan after Antaragni, as a break between that fest and the American Center tour. I knew I would be roughing it in some places so the thought of lugging my computer to the desert, with no internet access, seemed somewhat inappropriate, if not ridiculous! While I love my computer, I am not an addict, so felt no misgivings about leaving it behind. Some of our adventures involved desert camping - while the ‘camping’ is not as rough as it sounds, I just couldn’t see the wisdom in exposing my computer to the elements, especially sand. We wound up taking a motorcycle (3 up) through the Pushkar Fair - now THAT was something else! I’ve got great video of that ride. And we rode elephants in Jaipur and camels at a desert camp out near Jaisalmer, about 30 kilometers from the Pakistan border. Who wants to worry about their technology getting destroyed en route via beast of burden?! You know, good ol’ pen and paper can still suffice in many situations!






LP:  Next on your schedule is another extraordinary journey of art, culture, and glorious opportunity – you just returned from Vancouver, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. You are going to be a part of the Living Art exhibit, creating chalk artworks the entire month of February for the USA House during the Olympics. How did this opportunity come about? Will you be staying at the USA house as well? Will you be at the Opening Ceremony? A huge round of congratulations!



TLS: Yes, I am headed to Mt. Olympus, well, actually Whistler Mountain, in February 2010. In all seriousness, I am going to be setting up shop in Vancouver for the entire month in order to create a work of art for the USA House, commemorating US Olympic Hall of Famers. It’s going to be an evolving mural created with chalk pastels on asphalt paper, installed on the vertical walls of the lobby in the USA House. Every day or two, a new US Olympic Hall of Famer will be drawn on the mural, which will be revealed the following day. We anticipate having Olympic greats like Peggy Fleming (a childhood hero), Picabo Street, Scott Hamilton, Dan Jansen, Jim Craig and a host of others on site for the unveilings. Should be an interesting experience, as this will give me a chance to explore Vancouver thoroughly. I hope to squeeze in as many events as I can -- skating, skiing and curling are all top on the list. I was a big James Bond fan growing up so the possibility of seeing a Biathlon event might be kind of cool. And oh, yeah, the Jamaican Bobsled Team, if they have one this year! I suppose I might have to take in a hockey game or two (being in Canada!) -- haven’t seen one of those since I was taken to see the Philadelphia Flyers back in the 1980’s by my college boyfriend! Of course I’d love to see the Opening Ceremonies, as art & performance is often incorporated in wondrous ways (Beijing really outdid themselves with that in 2008). I’ve been told that tickets are notoriously hard to come by for that event, but never say never, right? I think I am most curious about the other national houses -- Russia House, Italy House, Japan House, etc. These will be located all over the city, designed and created uniquely for that nation’s participants. The international flavor of the event is what appeals to me most -- I’m especially looking forward to meeting other visitors and participants from around the world. Thank you Karen - again, I am honored that you would include my experiences and stories in Luciole Press!


LP: Thank you Tracy -- it is always a pleasure and honor to include you in Luciole! I cannot wait to hear more about your next adventure...






With Hemant Gupta








all art copyrights belong to Tracy Lee Stum

all article copyrights belong to Luciole Press and Tracy Lee Stum

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