WASHOUGAL — The question that painter Tracy Simpson gets asked most often is simply: “How do you do it?”
It’s a basic question, born of amazement at Simpson’s richly colorful, slightly surreal artworks. Some are street scenes and at-risk older homes that Simpson feels urgency about documenting before they disappear from her native Portland; some are color-saturated abstractions of horses, dogs and human figures; and some are detailed studies of the rusty beauty Simpson finds in industrial leftovers like shot-out car doors and disused metal pipes. One of her personal favorites blends water valves with a historical map of the whole Portland water system.
Simpson grew up “Daddy’s little gearhead,” she said, disassembling engines at her father’s side when little, riding her own motorcycle when she grew up.
“We used to wrench on this ’61 Falcon small block,” Simpson said of good times with Dad, sounding not at all like a typical artist. She sure wasn’t typical while earning her industrial-design degree at the Cleveland Institute of Art and then going to work designing car interiors in Detroit and then truck interiors for Daimler after moving back to Portland to be near family.
“I was the only woman doing industrial design in my graduating class, and the only woman in my design group. You’ve got to have thick skin, or you’ll be in litigation the rest of your life,” Simpson said of sex discrimination and just-plain-bad behavior in the very male auto industry. “It’s a tightrope, but you just focus on the work. Maybe that makes me not a very good feminist, but that’s what I did.”