Friday 11 July 2008

Elizabeth McGrath interview

Elizabeth McGrath

Location: Los Angeles

How would you describe your art? Mixed Media

Currently working on: A book of my work to be published by Billy Shrier and Last Gasp publishing, to coincide with my next solo show in Dec 2005 at the Billy Shrier gallery.

Day job: Making lots of stuff

3 Likes: My dogs, my boyfriend, vacations

3 Dislikes: Traffic when I need to be somewhere, cleaning up after my dogs, pimples

Daily Inspirations: Sunny days, rainy days & windy days with friends

Artists & people you admire: Henry Darger is my favourite right now because he has such an interesting life story, but I love so many artist, and I discover new artist everyday that it would take way too many pages to answer

Superpower you would most like to possess: make everybody happy, especially my mother. That would take real superpowers!

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This interview took place with Liz in two parts at the end of January & beginning of February 2005. All images reproduced with permission. © Elizabeth McGrath

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Hi Elizabeth, how are you, what are you up to at the moment?
Right now I am working on a piece for a show in NY at the Jonathan Lavine gallery, and painting a sign for a Trashy Lingerie baby shower game, the pussy toss (don't ask, its probably worse than you think!)

How did you start out with art, and develop to using the artistic forms, mediums and materials that you currently use?
I put together a punk rock fanzine with several of my friends when I was 18 and I would have to come up with the cover art and such, also I was in a band and I would design the t-shirts and flyers, they weren't very good, and their subject matter was very crass, but a music video director asked me to work at his studios after seeing one of the flyers and from there I learned to work with all the materials I use in my art today.

Do you find creating in alternative mediums & materials allows you the space to explore differing subjects?
Definitely, though experimenting with different painting techniques can be just as new and challenging if not more so.

What leads you to depicting the particular subjects and subject matter that your art deals with and explores?
At the moment it’s the environment I live in. My studio is on skid row and everyday I’m walking across passed out crack heads, limbless Vietnam vets, and piles of human defecation, to get into my place. LA has the most homeless people in America, but they are not just homeless, they are all terribly addicted to drugs and alcohol, its almost just like that movie John Waters did called Desperate Living, mixed with Night of the Living Dead. They howl and scream at night, really. I mostly ignore it now, but I read somewhere that when your brain detects sounds of danger, even if you think you've tuned it out, subconsciously you’re paying attention to it as a means of survival, like animals listening out for sounds of predators. Don’t know if its true or not, but I have noticed that even when I try to sit down and do a happy piece it always comes out off.

Your art has featured in exhibitions named (amongst others): Vicious, Delicious, Ambitious; Murder Mystery Mayhem; Cruel & Unusual; Rated XX; Nightmare on 18th Street; and Monsters A Go Go.
Do you feel these words, and their associated connotations and imagery are fair descriptions, and demonstrative of your work?
Its really popular right now for the galleries to host several group shows a year (which all of those mentioned are) after my first solo show my calendar got booked for 2 years in advance doing about 5 group shows a month, they give you a theme to work with, its not a bad thing every now and then, but I couldn't say no to anyone so I was way too overbooked to finish any of my own work. I am finally out of the group show debt and able to focus on my next solo show which will be a title of my choosing (not that any of those are bad titles)

Your band, Miss Derringer, have played and performed alongside exhibitions of your art in the past. How does it feel to combine very alternate artistic mediums (visual and audio) at such events?
It's really fun; I always get way to drunk though and can never remember anything the next day!

How did such performances come about, and have your band’s performances been embraced by those in artistic circles?
In a way music is what first opened the doors for my art career, my band at the time called Tongue was scheduled to play a show and when the promoter came by to drop off the posters for the show he saw one of my paintings and offered to hang it in the downstairs gallery for a Juxtapose event, I was more then thrilled! And from there curators started to call me.

What, if anything, do you feel these two artistic expressions lend to each other?
A break from one or the other!

Alongside Miss Derringer, you have stated Punk Rock, in general, amongst your artistic influences. Are there any specific punk influences, or is it more the scene, alternative DIY aesthetics, and the music in general that has been an influence to you?
When I was about 11 or so I saw on the news a blurb about the Sex Pistols, and Vivienne Westwood, right then I fell in love, I loved that whole look & scene, where I was from at the time you either had the Izod shirt, or the polo and if you didn’t you were an outcast, of course my family couldn’t afford either, so when I saw how all the kids were just making their own clothes and it was all about creativity and not how much money your parents had, I knew I had to be part of that. Also the music, I love the music.

I once read a quote by Mark Andersen that claimed ‘Punk is Creative Outrage’. Do you feel this statement applies to what you hope to achieve with your (visual) art? Musically I think it fits really well, angry music has a certain energy, and when used against things in the world that are wrong it has a lot of power, but I think visually I want to create things that are pretty, as I’m getting older I realize that the world is filled with horrors, and the pretty things are harder and harder to spot.

Mark Andersen was talking about very specific *political* outrage within creativity. What are your thoughts, in reference to your own work as well as others’, of the notion of the place of politics in art & creative mediums, and the notion of creativity used as, and within, politics and political action/activism?
I have always admired artist who could convey messages through their work, I think that it is very important to do so. I've never been able to pull it off, it always looks so forced.

Another influence you have claimed on your work is that of your Roman Catholic upbringing, (which I think can be seen in the Catholic/Mexican ‘shrine-like-diorama’ presentation of many of your pieces). How do you see this influence specifically represented in your work, and what place do you feel religion holds in contemporary art?
I think that it has definitely played a part in shaping my art as I was stuck countless hours sitting in church staring at one piece of shrine like art or another. I’m really glad I spent my younger years in catholic churches, I did my time in the Baptist institutions, and all they have is a plain wooden cross, so boring! I think that religion or lack of it shows through in most people’s art, I don’t think they can help it if it’s how you’re raised.

You appear to regularly use a more craft-based presentation in your art, as well as in your merchandise/one-off pieces for sale: stitched and bandaged dolls & toys. Alongside this, you are part of the Creepy Crafts Club, which offers advice and community for crafters. What are your thoughts on the resurgence of more traditionally ’female’ crafting techniques and mediums being used by younger women, such as increasingly popular ‘stitch-and-bitch clubs’ and ’knitting circles’? What place do you feel such crafts hold within the realm of ’art’?
I hope that crafts make a big come back in peoples homes! My friends and I got sick of going out to the bar every night, or sitting around drinking, so we thought that it would be more fun and productive to make crafts while we drink, soon there were more men in the club than women! It’s been really fun, we don’t do it as often, but there are several similar clubs state wide, and they make some really cool stuff!

Do you feel the parameters of ‘art’ are being expanded by successful craft mediums?
Yess definitely!

You have spoken of the notion that the art world is an industry where reputation means more than a degree. Do you feel this liberates or limits burgeoning artists?
I meant that in terms of gallery owners. No one really asks them if they studied art, business or
whatever. But for them their reputation regarding whether they pay their artist, rip them off, sell the painting twice or sell at all does mean more then a degree. I think that unfortunately an art degree gives an artist a certain kind of pedigree.

What are your experiences of the impacts of having to rely on the thoughts and criticisms from others within the industry to determine your reputation and the ‘worth’ of your work, as a female artist?
I've had my ups and downs, but I can’t really complain about anyone… except this one asshole- but there has to be one doesn't there.

Your work has been described as ‘isolated freak shows displaying rotting, subhuman figures luxuriously dressed for your pleasure or contempt’ Is it satisfying & enjoyable to be able to mix such disparate emotions together in your art: is expressing more than one-way-of-being something that appeals to you?
I've always been fascinated by fashion, especially of the early 1800’s and 1930’s, it seemed like even the best dressed of that time in photos looks so sad, everything looked so tragic. I guess I’m always trying to recreate.

You have recently highlighted the ‘horrors’ that you see/have seen in the art world: whether it be galleries, agents or companies not paying artists, or other artists stealing individuals ideas. Do you see the art world as a potentially insecure and exploitative industry in regard to these ‘horrors’? Are such ‘horrors’ commonplace? What are your thoughts on the issues and ethics of copyrighting artwork and of Unionising industries such as Art, to both protect artists’ work against plagiarism and protecting & securing artists’ working rights?
Hmmm, well my good friend is going through a really hard time with copyrights and such, but I think its getting worked out, I think that there will always be thieves out there in any field, but really for the most part, the art scene of which I’m a part of is pretty small so everyone knows each other more or less, and I get emails from people all the time just showing their support for the scene, which is weird because I never thought of it like a scene, but I guess it kind of is, its kind of like the punk scene was and still is, how a touring band can crash on anyone’s couch as long as they do the same when that band goes through town, I get the feeling that everyone has a lot of support for each other, and that’s pretty cool! So in a way there’s an unofficial copyright thing going on, like if I ripped off someone I would get a barrage of emails letting me know that was wrong, OK, I’m sorry I’m not really answering this question right!! I’ll move on

For you, what are the most satisfying and enjoyable aspects of creating your artwork and being an artist?
I love painting when I know what I’m painting and it just comes out, and I love dressing the dolls.

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