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Getting to know Traci Mims, the artist for Season 3

by Mike Fung and Matt Engel

Art has always been a part of Traci Mims’s life. The St. Petersburg, Florida native has been drawing since she was four and considers herself a social realist, meaning that her work depicts contemporary life honestly and richly, accounting for historical context. So it’s no surprise that Traci’s portraits of Yvonne Young Clark, which she created for Season 3 of Lost Women of Science, do just that. Through layering, symbolism, and mirroring, her pieces show YY within the world that shaped her.   

Traci sat down with LWoS guest writer Matt Engel and Director of Marketing Mike Fung for an interview about her process, and how she went about the task of representing Y.Y. through art. 

Anchor portrait of Yvonne Young Clark by Traci Mims
Listen to Traci discuss this piece

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your research process when it comes to your artistic subjects?

A: I’m really interested in their background, how they grew up, all those demographic details. With Y.Y. Clark, I was just so impressed by all of her firsts, and I really connected with her, because I can relate to times when I’ve been the only, or the first, to do certain things. So I understand the magnitude of the strength that she had to have in order to accomplish the things that she did. 

Q: We read that you consider social realism to be a major part of your work. Can you talk a little bit about why that’s crucial for you as an artist?

A: There are so many things that go against Blackness in our current climate that people are trying to basically cover up, or make it go away. But I think that in order for people to progress, they need to know where they messed up. So I can sit around and paint or draw regular subjects or do landscapes and still life and things of that nature, but who have I helped? To me, that’s the assignment and big picture: to do big things that are going to challenge mindsets and promote change. I’m very passionate about that.

Q: In thinking about your body of work for this third season, is there a particular piece that is a favorite of yours?

A: My favorite is that first anchor portrait. That one, I thought, just really kind of embodied the whole aura, the whole feeling and the accomplishment of Y.Y., because it presented her as who she was: she was a scholar, just a brilliant person, but she was also a woman who entertained. She was elegant. She was all these different things, and I think that particular piece embodied all of those characteristics.

Q: For the fourth episode art, you show Y.Y. teaching a classroom full of students. Did Y.Y. remind you of any teachers and mentors you had in the past?

A: Oh, yes. I had some teachers who cared and who made a difference in my life. I grew up poor. I had a lot of siblings, and it was the teachers who looked out for me, who influenced me, who made sure I went to college. When I got there, I had teachers who made sure that I did what I was supposed to do, that I graduated and went to the next level. I tell people there was always an angel on my shoulder. There was always someone who looked out for me, and I was blessed to be in that position, to have those types of people around me, and I hope there are still teachers out there like that.

Episode 4 art by Traci Mims

Q: In the art world, are there female artists who you believe have been “lost” to history?

A: Absolutely. I know some brilliant artists whose recognition is overdue. A lot of the artists that we see in the public eye, or at the forefront of the arts movements, are oftentimes not the most brilliant artists because there are people being overlooked.

Marsha Hatcher is an artist I know who is very prolific. She does painting, drawing, printmaking, sculptures, you name it. She’s very skilled and well-trained in a variety of art forms. Princess Simpson Rashid is another one. She’s an abstract artist and also an Olympic fencer. People in the Jacksonville area know about Princess, and she is very popular there. The quality of work she does deserves a larger platform. There is also Erin Kendrick in Jacksonville who is a very good painter and works very well with color and narratives around Black identity.

Those are just a couple that I admire and can think of right off the top of my head. 

Q: When you’re working on a portrait, and you’re trying to convey that person’s qualities to the viewer, what are some crucial details that you might put in the art?

A: If it’s an emotional aspect, like their strength, that might be exhibited in the brush stroke or color or shadow, or how heavy or light I make something. Also, I might think about symbolism, or what kind of symbols or objects I can tie in to get across the important aspects of that person. But as far as personality, I try to capture that in the portraiture. You would be amazed by how much emotion you can just portray with simple elements like line, shape, color and texture. All of those things can be used to tell a story.

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