Tracy Vidal and Kindness Matters

Watch the Opening Party on 22 November, with celebrations of the Together! 2022 Open Exhibition and Tracy Vidal’s Kindness Matters Exhibition.

An Introduction to Tracy Vidal’s Kindness Matters Exhibition

Artistic Director Dr Ju Gosling writes: Did you know that 13 November was the 25th annual World Kindness Day? It was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a coalition of non-governmental organisations. It is observed in many countries, including Canada, Australia, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates. Singapore observed the day for the first time in 2009. Italy and India also observed the day.

What is kindness? Wikipedia says: “Kindness is a type of behaviour marked by acts of generosity, consideration, rendering assistance or concern for others, without expecting praise or reward in return. Kindness is a topic of interest in philosophy, religion, and psychology. Kindness was one of the main topics in the Bible.”

Dictionaries define kindness as: ‘the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”he thanked them for their kindness and support”.’

It has never been more important to think about kindness in relation to life online. The growth of social media has led to an explosion in unkindness affecting everyone who is old enough to use a phone. Unlike traditional media, anyone can say virtually anything about anyone, often directly to them. The lack of kindness online is a major barrier to digital inclusion, and often far more than lack of money. Tracy’s image ‘oh my stars’ reflects how fake expressions of concern on social media can simply be another way of being unkind.

The Inspire Kindness blog team say: “Kindness goes beyond merely being nice. There can be a lack of sincerity in just being nice; there is often a perception of doing the minimum. Whereas, being kind is doing intentional, voluntary acts of kindness. Not only when it’s easy to be kind, but when it’s hard to be.”

The Inspire Kindness team also point out that:  “Kindness is a movement.  Has someone ever done something kind to you and all you wanted to do after was pay it forward? That’s because kindness is a chain reaction. It’s a wave that keeps rolling, and all it needs is one person to start it. One small kind act can cause a ripple effect that impacts an entire community. If we are all focused on being kind, we are creating a movement of change.”

Critically, kindness is fundamental to our own emotional wellbeing, and to the wellbeing of others. The Mental Health Foundation found that almost two-thirds of adults said that if someone is kind to them, it has a positive impact on their mental health, and so does being kind to others. The Foundation has produced a comprehensive online guide to ways in which we can incorporate kindness to ourselves and others into everyday life.

What is essential is that we start by being kind to ourselves. We need to apply the same understanding, tolerance and acceptance to ourselves that we give to others. We need to be a generous, considerate friend to ourselves, particularly at this very difficult time for the UK. As Ru Paul points out weekly on Drag Races around the world, ‘if you don’t love yourself, how are you going to love someone else?!’

I really want to thank Tracy for pointing all this out in her art. Tracy doesn’t talk about her work, so I have the honour of talking about it tonight instead. Tracy also wants me to thank Alison Marchant for all of her hard work in organising and photographing the exhibition, because the original art works being exhibited are physical not digital.

I know Tracy as a painter. In this show, though, Tracy has used copy art and stamping to create many of the works. Rubber stamps have been used in fine art since pre-revolutionary Russia, and then became part of mail art in the 1940s — although mail art wasn’t used as a term until the 1960s. 

Copy art began almost as soon as the first copiers were invented, by Xerox in the 1960s. Andy Warhol was just one of the artists who embraced it, and since then it has often been used in collagemail art and book art. Publishing collaborative mail art in small editions of Xerox art and mailable book art was the purpose of International Society of Copier Artists (I.S.C.A.), founded by Louise Odes Neaderland.

Copy art is a relatively accessible form of fine art, as is stamping. No studio or expensive supplies are required, just ordinary paper, scissors and ink, and access to a photocopier in a local library. It’s also easy to get started; anyone can begin at any level, and Tracy hopes that other people will be inspired by her own enjoyment in creating images.

One form of copy art is to incorporate copied images into collages, and this is the technique that Tracy has focussed on. In particular, Tracy has focussed on a few stamps by the well-known brand Janet Klein, featuring an angel, little girls, a dancing or drumming woman, and hearts. I was really interested to know who the artist is behind this brand, but I couldn’t find one, so I am still unsure if they are an individual, or an East Asian company with a very strong design aesthetic. One of the questions that Tracy explores in her work is the relationship between the stamped designs sold commercially — the clip art of the non-digital world — and the work that is created with them. Who is the artist? And does it make a difference if you have a fine art background?

In many of the exhibits, Tracy has cut out the original image, printed on white paper, and glued it onto black paper. Then she has cut that shape out and glued it back onto white paper, before adding stamped text. This isolation and reframing of the images in itself changes their nature, and makes them darker and less certain in meaning. Tracy also plays with the size of the images — sometimes a whole image is shrunk to appear next to another on a button badge design, while another time a detail will occupy the entire page. Images are repeated with different colours, or none, and with different texts. If there was an original meaning intended by the stamp designer, it is no longer clear here.

The heart is a constant motif, both within the copy art and in Tracy’s accompanying series of acrylic paintings. In the copy art, the angel and some of the little girls hold a heart, and a red heart marks the only colour in the figure of the dancing or drumming woman. Mainly in black and red on a white background, Tracy’s paintings show the heart as being literally and metaphorically central. Most often, it is connected to other hearts. 

Flowers are the other recurring symbol through the exhibition, reflecting the relationship between flowers and love. False love — unkindness — is a theme here too. But so is kindness — not just being received, but given out. Kindness makes us stronger, as in Tracy’s piece Black Chick Magic.

What kindness also gives us is hope, and while it also reflects the difficulties of love, Tracy’s exhibition is a very hopeful exhibition. It was also very kind of her to share it with us, and I’d like to thank her on behalf of us all. Now I’d like to bring in our Clubs Programme Alison Marchant, who’s seen Tracy’s career develop over more than 30 years. Alison is going tell us a bit more about Tracy, and then we’re going to open up to everyone to ask questions and make points about the exhibitions and the rest of the festival. 

Clubs Programme Leader Alison Marchant adds: I first met Tracy Vidal in 1989 at the Tom Allen Centre in Stratford, E15 where I was in an exhibition called Copy Art. Tracy was one of a group of students from the Arts Foundation course at East Ham Community College who attended my workshop. The workshop commenced at Arrogan Day Centre in East Ham, interviewing the elderly residents, note-taking and scanning their old photographs. We then went back to the Tom Allen Centre, and Tracy and the students made collages, with photocopies of photographs and text mingled and objects like combs and hair through wall paper. The students exhibited the work as a collective installation at Tom Allen Centre as well. At the time copy art was quite big and widely shown in alternative galleries. 

Tracy was at the time working solely as a painter, and went on to study her BA Fine Art Degree at Wolverhamption University with two other Newham students from her Arts Foundation course. Later I became a visiting lecturer there and gave Tracy and her peers tutorials. Tracy was making large paintings around 4-foot high, and greatly admired the work of Sonia Boyce and Lubaina Himid, and still does, but Tracy has her own style through a certain kind of figurative painting and graduated with a BA in Fine Art.

In her work Tracy is interested in the domestic, and with her current show with Together! 2012, entitled Kindness Matters she has worked on a domestic scale in her living room on a scanner and copier and with her paints and canvases throughout lockdown. In this body of work Tracy also uses stamp art, which was also predominant domain of mail art in the 1980s. In the works on paper, many of the figures and shapes are various found visuals brought together with her own text, colouring and collage techniques; with individually stamped letters where the rest of the compositions are reappropriated to create new meanings. The meanings are messages of kindness, strength: ‘Black lives Matter”, love, self-worth and isolation through stylised florals, hearts and figures; and the layering of collage and printing and paper cuts reframing them. Beneath this there is sometimes a darker side such as ‘I used to love you. I’ll guard it now. You’re stuck with me’.

View Tracy Vidal’s Kindness Matters exhibition

Together! 2022 Disability History Month Festival, 22 November - 8 December, Inclusive Dance, Drama, Exhibitions, Family Activities, Films, Music, Poetry & conversations, all free & from the comfort of your own home, with captions and British Sign Language interpretation. Including the international Together! 2022 Disability Film Festival 2-4 December 2022.

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