Coffee With Tracy A. Marciano

When I wrote a story last month about the expansion of Merit Wines into the former Zaentz Hardware Store, I included a photo of a sign in the window that showed a bottle of red under the words “In Vino Veritas.” A few days later, I got an email from Montclair artist Tracy A. Marciano, who not only created that piece but several others — all from paint chips that came from Zaentz. I asked Marciano about the project, and got more than I bargained for: the unique vision of an artist who has synesthesia, thinks in color and is passionate about store window displays along Bloomfield Avenue.

Did they contact you? Did you contact them?

I’ve lived across the street from Zaentz for about 3.5 years so their window displays were my view. Although I loved Zaentz and Roz, window displays were not a priority: being a local hardware store where you could find anything you needed was the allure which is why the store is definitely missed by the community.

I’ve spoken to several people and organizations in town about having window display competitions in order to turn Bloomfield Avenue into an evolving and organic public art display. It has been challenging and hasn’t gained momentum, but I’m still hopeful.

The day I saw Zaentz closing I was eager to mention the space to Kim at Merit Fine Wine because I’ve always felt it would be a great space for him. Apparently he was thinking the same thing and told me he already called Roz the day before about signing a lease. I know Kim personally so I persuaded him into let me change the window displays. I emphasized changing them in time for the July 4th parade and adding signs about his pending move for publicity. On July 3rd from midnight until 4 a.m., I cleaned out everything that was left in the windows and recycled anything Kim at had at his current store, but still felt it needed more color.

Where did you get the idea for using the paint chips?

While I was going through the remnants of what was left behind in the Zaentz, I unearthed an amazing time capsule from the late 1960’s-1970’s that I became very attached to. As someone who completed graduate studies in Historical Preservation at Pratt School of Architecture, this was a compelling space to explore considering I’ve analyzed the exterior architecture of the building for so many years.

I’ve always been someone who is able to deconstruct things intellectually and then reconstruct them into a modified state of existence. This was the case with the paint chips. I noticed thousands of paint chip packets everywhere and was drawn to the magnitude of how many there were. I knew I could do something with them but it took a while to figure it out. I brought them all to my house and just looked at them for several weeks. As I was deconstructing each strip and reconfiguring them in my mind I thought about the incredible mosaics that I’ve seen around the world. This was the same concept of small pieces of material and colour reconstructed into a larger form: pixilation by using a different medium which tethered the old world mosaics to a new digital era which is the same concept to me creatively.

How did you get involved with this?

I’ve been a film photographer for about 20 years. Film has become historical process in an era of digital pixilation. This idea overlapped with the paint chips. As someone with synesthesia (author Vladimir Nabakov and American composer Philip Glass worked under the influence of synesthesia, which basically means thinking in color), the color along with quantity of the paint chips was intriguing. Using vibrant color and abstract ideas has been an underlying theme in my photography – I just recalibrated the union between the message and the medium into paint chips.

The first time Kim let me into the space we talked about his design for the new space. After he told me I asked him “why are you doing it like that” and he said “ Because this is the dragon side, this is the tiger side…” I kept that conversation tucked away in my mind and realized that his cultural heritage was important and embedded in his daily life. Chinese art and architecture use numerical sequences and metaphors for prosperity, wealth, harmony, friendship, etc. so I felt it was important to use them in anything going in his new space even if it was just for temporary window coverings during construction.

The first piece was the tree on Midland Avenue which was completed in August. It is placed in an area of the building that should have rounded corners to amplify the positive attributes represented on the west. It also represents growth, germination of new things, organic evolution and indicative of how an old tree can still produce new blossoms every year.

The dragon in the front right window took me a while to figure out in my mind. I did some basic drawings that included the water, the pearl engulfed in flames, a general line drawing for the dragon, numerical sequences and metaphors that correlated with the dragon area and showed them to Kim. I mentioned I was having trouble drawing a dragon and he took the pencil from me and drew an elaborate dragon in about 45 seconds which was impressive. I tried to follow Kim’s drawing while I was arranging the paint chips. Kim also gave me suggestions about contrasting colors around the mane of the dragon.

Have you used paint chips before?

I’ve never used paint chips before so this was a learning process, but I have become obsessed with trying to manipulate the paint chips into actual forms and will continue to use them until I run out.

How many do you think you used?

I can’t tell you how many I actually used, but I’ve guessing thousands. I only had small part of the water (to the right of the dragon) completed and Kim was a bit startled by how many pieces I used which was only a couple of hundred at that point.

And are there any colors you’re really sick of? Or, conversely, want to paint a room now?

I appreciate all of the colours and have developed a stronger sense of slight variations of any color by looking at so many paint chips for such a long period of time. I’ve always been drawn to cobalt blue, emerald green and variations of purple – this process amplified my interest in them.

Looking back to ancient times and development of color, each is a derivative of something found in nature regardless of how it is used in today’s world. For example, cobalt blue was a derivative of Lazulite (lapis lazuli) which is mined in Afghanistan. Extracted from the earth, the mine provided the rich blue stones found in Egyptian art, gave us tangible evidence of ancient trade routes and is reflected in colors used in a modern era even in concepts like Picasso’s blue period and the blue screen of a computer.

If I had free rein, I would paint my building a chalky cobalt blue and add vibrant yellow vases filled with fuchsia flowers to make it look like le Jardin de Marjorelle in Marrakech, Morocco, a place I’ve visited often and intend to visit many more times. However, I’m going to work on window displays and try to master working with paint chips before I decide to paint entire buildings along Bloomfield Avenue in the middle of the night.

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  1. THAT IS DEFINATELY NEAT! I can’t imagine the hours involved to make just one picture. Can’t pick a favorate, they all stand alone! Who ever thought of “painting” with color chips ???

  2. Did you just email the artist 6 questions to ask or did you do an interview? The reason I am asking is because if I heard she found a time capsule, my next question wouldn’t be “how did you get involved with this”. It would be “What did you find?!?!?

  3. I want to know more about the artist and that time capsule also, Jimmytown. There should also be a picture of the artist herself and more personal/professional info about her and her other work. Does she sell her work? Is she 20 or 60? Is she from Montclair originally, etc.? Is she a full-time artist or is it a hobby? The windows are great, tell me more. How about a Coffee with… part 2?

  4. Tracy I’m with you let’s make all of the windows on Bloomfield a gallery! I miss the windows at Zaentz.

  5. To Monty: Thanks for the post. Just wanted to reach out to you and follow up with some questions you asked

    1)Debbie asked for a photo. I didn’t send it: camera shy.
    2)My website, which is included in the article if you click on my name in the first paragraph Debbie wrote shows other work (
    3)Age not disclosed, but its somewhere between 35-85. If my wrinkle cream starts to work, we can slide it down to 30.
    4) If you have other questions feel free to email me at

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