Tracey Eastland's art shouldn't work. Each of his polymer clay tiles bears vivid colors in intricate designs. Putting them together in mosaics should lead to an overwhelming visual mess. But his colorful creations shine nonetheless, a celebration of vibrant colors that draws the eye in.
When we speak at COPPeR, where a selection of his works are on display, he shows me the first piece he ever made, now 20 years old. His love of colors and textures is there, but the vivid tiles hanging on the wall pop so much more, showing just what 20 years of practice has produced.
"The texture's completely different from my later ones," he says. "This was all hand-rolled, whereas [with the newer pieces], I used a pasta machine to make them consistent." That technique allows him to fit a lot more detail into each piece. To add texture, he uses everything from lightbulbs to bottle openers, always looking for new tools and techniques in everyday objects.
"I push myself; every set I do is completely different," he says. "I blend the colors, add glitter to some. You can really see the glitter in the blacks and the blues. And I use interference powder to give it another dimension, a shine that you otherwise wouldn't see." He also incorporates glow-in-the-dark elements, giving his pieces a whole different personality in the dark.
While each tile and each set is unique, he does have some recurring elements within hundred-plus-tile batches. To get the more complex details, he makes canes — rods of clay made from multiple colors, which he slices like sugar cookies to get a cross-sectional design. He'll mix and remix slices from those canes in many different ways throughout a set of tiles.
"I never have a preconceived notion of what I'm going to do," he says. "I just go with impulse." For the tiles in his most recent series, he explored geometric shapes, drawing inspiration from mandalas and sacred geometry. When he builds his larger pieces, he tends to draw inspiration from science, nature and space. Like cells in a living thing, each of his tiles is beautiful in its own right. But when he assembles them, they produce color gradients and a variety of visual tangents that did not exist before.
"I love the fact that we all come from nothing, that we all come from a single cell."