In January 2005, Kelly Tracht made a decision that would alter the course of her life.
She and her husband, Richard, were driving on the highway – both heading toward job interviews at the same architectural firm – when she turned toward him and said, “I can’t do this.”
In a single breath she unleashed a statement seemingly laden with desperation, but Tracht, who is as free-spirited as she is artistic, was referring to her career.
“I don’t want to work in this field anymore,” Tracht continued. “I need to paint.”
Growing up near Clearwater, Tracht was drawn to the water, nature and animals. She was 4 years old when her mom put a paint brush in her hand, and a light inside her turned on.
“My mother likes to tell the story that I would cry if she didn’t let me paint,” Tracht, 44, says. “I was obsessed with paint [then] the way I still am today.”
Tracht gravitated toward painting like the tides gravitate toward the moon – but she also had an element of practicality about her. “I could have gone to art school, but something inside of me said, ‘No, learn a broader way,’” she says.
Referring to architecture as “the mother of all arts,” Tracht pursued an education in architecture. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, and eventually a master’s degree from the University of Miami in 2003. Despite obtaining work in her architectural field, she never lost her artistic hunger.
Tracht spent a better part of her life feeding her artistic needs. While studying at the Vicenza Institute of Architecture in Italy at age 23, she was immersed in a town where architecture and art are one and the same.
In 1997 Tracht lived on the island of Grenada for a year and a half, where all she did was paint and learn a style that was new to her, called naïve. She learned from and worked with an acclaimed realist artist, Christopher Still, in Clearwater. In graduate school she took fiber arts, ceramics and quilting classes. And throughout it all, she painted portraits.
Knowing she wanted to paint was never the issue – giving it her sole focus was. And it wasn’t until that moment in 2005 that Tracht knew she would.
It took Tracht a few years to find her signature style, a style she calls “painterly modernism.” Painterly, she says, describes the brush strokes in her pieces that allow one to experience the paint in a spontaneous way. Modernism describes the innocence in her work – an homage to her influences: Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Since leaving architecture to focus on her art full-time, Tracht is busier than ever, receiving daily orders for her work. Her artwork has included painting murals for the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, creating the cover for the Junior League of the Palm Beaches’ cookbook in 2006 and an exhibit at the Bloomingdale’s Artrageous event in 2007. She was even awarded the President’s Purchase Award at SunFest in 2012, and her “Sailing Sailfish” piece was the poster winner for ArtiGras in 2014. She is now delving into other mediums like fabric, throw pillows and wallpaper.
So while there was never a doubt that Tracht was an artist, it took some time to commit to it. “There is no shortcut. … You invest the time, you sacrifice and you soul search,” she says. And she’d have it no other way.