I interviewed Slaughter the day before his birthday and spent a few extra hours hanging out in his studio watching him work on ‘Ticket Taker Tom’ jamming to The Black Keys. I get a fuzzy feeling when I recall my interview with Tra’ Slaughter. It’s a velvet-like crush strongly shaded with familial affection. There’s so much to appreciate. What I like most about Slaughter is his impressive imagination and ability to manifest the origins of his ‘Artiste Imaginarium’. He has no shortage of resourcefulness, creativity, or drive – not to mention how easily unpretentious he is.
Since his Sweaty, Sultry, Sandy an Art Happening by Tra’ Slaughter, he’s continued to work tirelessly on expanding his ingenious talent and is continually ‘on the go’ for the next ‘Art Happening’. Tra’s ‘happenings’ will prove to be the golden ticket to exposing
his full-circle of virtuous creativity. What will he think of next and where will it take him?!
Artiste Illumination: Tra’ Slaughter
What’s the earliest memory of your inclination to art?
I always remember coloring with my teacher in 2nd grade. I remember this so vividly because whoever did the best job in their coloring assignment was awarded with the piece the teacher colored. I had quite the collection of her works. I wish I still had
them. Plus, this is the first crush that I can remember to this day and totally still remember what she looks like.
Do you have a passion for any other art?
I feel great passion towards everything that I’m involved with but to answer this more directly, I have a great passion for creating something new, something that I’ve never done before. Currently, that is writing, producing and directing a play for my next “Art Happening by Tra’ Slaughter”. I like to call my shows ‘happenings’ because there’s a lot more going on than just an art show. The next ‘happening’ – Claus, Claws, Clause – will debut December 10th at War’Hous Visual Studios. I’ve never done anything like this. I’m designing wardrobe, designing and building sets, casting characters, writing, producing and directing (with the help of some very talented and amazing people).
Do you have any formal training?
During my Graphic Design studies at The Art Institute of Houston, it was required to take some drawing and painting courses. Those classes are the extent of my training. I am, however, very pleased that these classes were a requirement. Kevin Richert was one of the life drawing/painting instructors. To this day I utilize methods he taught in class. In fact, I still have a handout from one of his classes on portrait painting that hangs on the wall in my studio. It reviews a layering process. The best portraits, in my opinion, that are most life-like are done in layers, washes, glazes, and layers….washes, glazes, and layers. Funny enough – several years ago – I was invited to participate in a group show and low and behold the piece hanging next to mine was signed by Kevin Richert.
What is your work experience in the art field, if any?
I’ve been a graphic designer for the better part of 10 years. There were a few years in there where painting was my main focus but graphic design has been part of my life and tool for earning a steady living for quite a while. I’ve been contracted for several art projects over the years including mural work, commissioned pieces, and portrait work. I worked for a faux-painting/fine arts business for a whole two weeks. It sounded a lot more glamorous and rewarding than it turned out to be. I’m used to working in a studio – me in grungy clothes, sweaty and funky. My first day there, I was in an up-tight setting with classical music playing in the background and a tour of old ladies came in. At the time, I wasn’t wearing deodorant because…well, I just didn’t like it. At the end of the day, the owner casually said, “This is going to be kind of awkward but you’re going to have to do something about the B.O.” Yeh that was my first day….any job that starts off like that on the first day is probably not going to go smoothly. <laughs>
What is your experience in the realm of arts?
I started painting while at The Art Institute. I had a few people come up to me asking, “Hey, would you paint me this?” I sold my first piece to a fellow student whose husband was V.P. or President of NASA. The funny part is that when I painted, I painted in the living room of a tiny apartment my girlfriend – at the time – and I had…and she had cats. There was cat hair everywhere and all over the painting. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I took the painting to her and was kind of apologizing and she was like, “Oh
no, check this out.” She whistled or made some noise and something like 11 cats came running. She said, “We’re cat freaks! It means so much more with cat hair in it!”
My first art show was a group show at Winter Street Studios in 2004 or 2005. I had been painting for a few years but hadn’t ‘shown’ work anywhere publicly. Winter Street was a great place to get my work out there and noticed. Since then, I’ve participated in quite a few shows both in galleries (Darke Gallery, Lawndale Art Center, War’Hous Visual Studios, Watson Galleries, Muir Fine Arts, and countless coffee shops, restaurants, bars and clubs). I’ve been very fortunate in the fact that I’ve sold quite a few pieces of art without much advertising or marketing – believe it or not. I still don’t have a working website. People – for the most part – have had great response to my work and that is a great feeling. Of course, I’ve had people have very negative responses to my work, too. Reactions – good or bad – show success in a painting… in my opinion. I almost enjoy negative reaction as much as a positive. A negative reaction is much more interesting because you get a different inner feeling about it.
Is there a particular individual(s) that influence(s) you? What is it that captured your attention about their work?
My favorite artist is Charlie Isoe. I’d buy everything he’s ever done but I’ve always credited Van McFarland with changing my approach to art. He opened up my mind to experimenting with various mediums, as well as, helping me to overcome my inhibitions and apprehensions towards creating like taking risks, chances, and accepting and learning from failures in my art. Not every piece that an artist begins turns out to be greatness. In fact, very few do. To me, what shows greatness is the continuous striving to achieve it. Not all art is about a finished product. A lot, most in fact, pertaining to the artist, is about the journey, the path and the ‘how’ of getting there. The lessons and techniques learned (and perhaps even just stumbled upon) during the journey are the true treasures.
Every artist has a specific medium they favor – what is yours? Is there any other medium you are interested in exploring?
Painting with acrylic is my preferred medium. I truly enjoy working with oil bars and oil pastels as well. I have always wanted to work with clay and sculpture. When painting, my hands and fingers are like lead tools. I like touching the paint and the canvas – not just through a paintbrush, but the actual physical connection between me, the paint, and the canvas.
What kind of topics or subjects do you find yourself discovering in your art?
Currently, my work consists of people – specifically faces. Not the pretty, smooth, flawless and perfect faces but the faces that tell a story without any sound at all. I love the look of an old, weathered, ruddy and worn face. Truly beautiful. When I am painting a portrait or people in general, I get involved with them. I have conversations with them. They are the other person in the room. It’s me, my cat – sometimes – and them. In the time that we are together – them on the easel and me painting – I feel that a relationship begins to occur. I somehow feel closer to the person even if we have never met. The constant eye contact and the emotions and thoughts that run through my head give me a comforting feeling and this I enjoy. Honestly, there are some times when I finish a piece; I feel a bit of separation anxiety. I begin to miss the person. I know, weird, but true.
What inspires you to create?
People, faces, ideas, happenings, words, sounds, memories and just the constant flow of different stimuli that runs between my ears. I don’t necessarily seek out to locate particular inspiration. I simply leave myself open and available to it. To inspiration, I say, “My door is always open. Feel free to stop by anytime.”
Do you work based on a theme or stream of consciousness?
Usually, I tend to develop a theme once an idea comes to me. In the ‘art happenings’ that I produce – and any show that I curate – a theme is created for participating artists to follow (as well as the happening itself to follow). So, I guess theme is always what I try to work from but – I think at times – a stream of consciousness is just what happens. Lots of times, in the process of painting and creating, something just takes over and it’s as if a thought process isn’t necessary. It’s as if a line of communication between me, the
canvas, and the paint opens up and things just flow.
Let’s talk about the creative process on this piece of art.
“Ticket Taker Tom”
I dig him. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that he looks like a self-portrait. To me, he looks like Tom Waits. Lately my work has been – not so much just clowns – but I incorporate the look and the masking of clowns in my work. I think everyone really is a clown underneath what we wear as our daily armor – as a person, as a face, as what we wear. I think truly when we’re at home with ourselves, we’re clowns! My idea of painting people with traces of clown make-up or fully engrossed in clown make-up is a way of getting underneath the surface of the face that we see every day. It’s getting down to the true core of the person. We’re kind of like a coat of magic shell. When you get home you break out of that and there’s just ice cream. I’m just fucking ice cream. When it’s all said and done, we are just ice cream.
This guy has been working at a shitty carnival and has just had it. He’s done with it. He’s having a cigarette – he hates life. He’d dirty, grungy, broken-down in these over-sized pants. You can see traces of his underwear and clown make-up. He’s at the bottom – bare-bones – all he has is him and a bad look on his face and some really awesome hair. I see him sitting in front of a trailer, in a lawn chair, drinking Busch light – hating the world.
Do you have a favorite place to brainstorm? What’s that environment like?
I really do my best brainstorming in the truck. Driving down the road, ideas just come to me and they seem to be able to work themselves out without my conscious thought process being necessary. You know, it’s like if you think about something too hard or try to force an idea to come to you, it simply doesn’t. I think a somewhat distracted mind can be the most creative. Some of my friends call me Cray-Cray Tra` Tra` simply because the stream of new ideas that come from me is a constant. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, creative thoughts and ideas are running and swirling around in my head. It’s a nice, warm, comfortable feeling – better than anything that comes in a plastic baggie, capsule, or on the rocks or tallboy.
What is your vision regarding your work? Your hopes?
My vision is to simply keep creating and continue to hone my skills, grow as an artist, as a person through my art, and the study of life in general. My hopes…well, I hope that I am fortunate enough to be allowed the luxury of painting and creating for the duration of my years left here on earth. After that…well, no one knows.