An experiment in love and art

Michael Goller

Have you ever jetted to the grocery store for just a gallon of milk but found yourself wandering the aisles to catch another glimpse of that athletic blonde in the dairy section?

For those of us who answered “yes” to this question, Andree Tracey is definitely our kind of artist. In her Aphrodite series, part of which is featured in the Minnesota Art with a Twist exhibition at the Weisman Art Museum, Tracey appeals to those of us who look for romance in the most ordinary of places.

A local artist and avid storyteller with a strong interest in mythology, Tracey also cites comic books as inspiration in creating her Aphrodite series. In these works, Tracey paints the mythological goddess of love in a number of local hangouts that are depicted for their hook-up potential.

Part humor, part down-to-earth honesty, Tracey’s series includes locations such as a Starbucks, the Mall of America and a Byerly’s grocer. Tracey attributes the popularity of these meeting places to a society that has fallen away from spirituality.

“It used to be that churches were a place where young people could meet,” says Tracey. “The same with the outdoors, because nature can be an aphrodisiac, and nature is a very romantic setting, but a lot of that has been taken away by construction and building. Between these two elements we’ve been reduced to finding new and interesting places.”

Each of the paintings portrays a different aspect of love; from the greater moments to the ones we all know and loathe.

In Aphrodite in Byerly’s, Tracey’s bright color scheme is contrasted by an Aphrodite painted in a deep blue shadow. Ravens accompany the goddess, symbolizing the downside to romance.

“Love has this element of doubt in it,” Tracey says. “The raven has a sort of ominous feel to it.”

Rather portray Aphrodite as the love catalyst she is commonly known as, Tracey paints her as more of a symbol of love in a modern setting.

“I just wanted to be abstract and make you want to grit your teeth and feel uncomfortable,” Tracey says of Aphrodite in Byerly’s. “I was aiming more for a feeling when you look at the painting rather than an intellectual understanding.”

Though Tracey’s portraits portray the ups and downs of romance, she includes many couples in the scenes; a backdrop of success stories for each situation.

But are things really as successful as Tracey portrays them? From past experience, I wanted to say no.

Inspired by Tracey’s paintings and fueled by journalistic ambition, I went out to see if life imitates art by spending a weekend in the places depicted by Tracey. In a search for romance, or at least a date to the opening of the Weisman’s exhibition, I put my inhibitions to rest and my experiment to the test.

My visit to Byerly’s couldn’t have more closely resembled Tracey’s work. It might as well have been me in the painting, sans the ravens. I miserably made my way through a busy early Saturday-afternoon crowd composed entirely of older couples and families. When the cashier asked me if I found everything I was looking for, I had half a mind to ask in what aisle were the 20-year-old redheads.

Instead, I gathered my pride and my groceries and headed to Starbucks. Not being a coffee shop regular, I was unsure about the kind of crowd I’d find. I was able to start up conversations with two young women, who, I soon learned, were both there to meet dates. In another act of life imitating art, I played the role of Tracey’s Starbucks Aphrodite to the rescue, alleviating my new friends’ anxieties by talking to them while they waited for their dates.

Striving to put a successful angle on my story, I denied my native tendencies to avoid the Mall of America on a weekend. There I came the closest to “success” when I met Jessica, 19, who recently finished her first year at Purdue University in her home state of Indiana. Though she said she came just to shop, Jessica said she “didn’t mind so much meeting” me, acknowledging that she would have accompanied me on a date if only she weren’t leaving that day. Excuse? Or pseudo-success?


Three of Andree Tracey’s Aphrodite paintings can be seen at the Weisman Art Museum’s Minnesota Art with a Twist exhibition which opens Saturday and runs through October 21.


Michael Goller invites comments at [email protected]