Friday 11 July 2008

Tara McPherson interview

Tara McPherson

Location: Brooklyn, NY
How would you describe your art?: My art has been described as sweetly creepy. I think that fits pretty well. My art, as in real life, is never what it seems. It has that dynamic of cute, but unsettling. We can never really know the real truth about something or someone, ever. And we probably shouldn’t.
Currently working on: Commissioned paintings, posters, freelance stuff, stationary designs, toy designs, working faster.
Day job: Art art art...
3 Likes: Pickles, sleeping in, looking at stuff.
3 Dislikes: Being rushed, wasabi, dust.
Daily Inspirations: Looking at books and magazines, life, my friends, walks.
People & Artists you admire: Katsuya Terada, Bronzino, Wonder Woman.
Superpower you would most like to possess: The ability to stop time.
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This interview took place with Tara in May 2005. All images reproduced with permission © Tara McPherson.
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Hi Tara, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
Good thanks. This week I have a few drawing commissions, a Bright Eyes/Faint poster, a Rilo Kiley poster, a toy design to finalize, a stationary set to design, and some drawings to clean up for an art print series.
How did you get started with art, and get to where you are now?
Well I have always been interested in art, and always went to art magnet schools my whole life. I also went to Art Center for a BFA in Illustration/Fine Art. I guess you could say there really has never been a time in my life where I wasn’t interested in art. It has been on a steady incline ever since I was born.
What fascinates you most, and fires your imagination?Do you think imagination holds an important place in your art?
I think an overactive imagination is a key element to being a successful artist/illustrator. You must have the ability to see things differently than the average person, to view life from a different perspective. When I’m coming up with ideas for my work I sit down and think and write before I even begin to draw anything. I try to push myself further in my concepts and the development of my own visual vocabulary with each project. I’m always trying to step out of the bubble, you know?
Looking through the gallery of your art work on your website, the majority of your paintings and illustrations are of female subjects. What fascinates you with women & girls?
I think I focus on that imagery because I am a woman. It’s what is familiar to me. And when I’m describing something, it’s from my perspective, so most of the time I automatically draw a woman. I think with most artists, as with myself, the character they draw is to some degree an extension of themselves.
I read of your early influences that they include a lot of male artists such as Miyazaki, Kent Williams, Frank Miller, Dave McKean, amongst many others. Are you drawn to male artists, or is it the case that female artists weren’t particularly prominent in popular culture in the early stages of your career to draw inspiration from?
The latter. I wish there were more female artists out there, but that fact is, it’s a male
dominated field. I’m doing my part to make it different.

Your rock posters, for me, are amongst your most intriguing work: seeing how you have merged together two very creative fields, those of music and art. Is it a love of music that began your creation of these posters?
Do you see a close relationship between the art world and the music world?
Combining my two favourite things, art and music, is a total dream. For me there is a close relationship between them, but I wouldn’t say that is the case with the majority of people. I always listen to music when I’m working so it’s an integral part in my creative process. I have also played bass for almost 15 years now, so writing and playing music is also a very important thing in my life.

The posters act very much as ‘public art’, being exhibited in public spaces such as at gigs, as advertisement on streets and put up in people’s homes and walls.How does producing and displaying this easily accessible, highly visible art works differ from producing exhibition pieces of art work that you have classed on your website as your ‘high art’?
Well now with the high quality in art reproduction and printing I would say that margin is growing narrower. With most of my new paintings I will be offering art prints of them for sale. Mainly because I want the paintings to live on longer than just in the gallery, and I want the average person to be able to afford my art.
With the posters, how do you link images with specific bands/artists? Do you create art specifically for bands, being inspired by the image, aesthetics or name of the band in order to make the posters suitable?
For me, the images of the girl with a lollypop, and the images of lips are so well suited for the artists Air, and Peaches, respectively; that it seems their work and sound almost inspired your images. Is this a fair assumption?
In this sense, could you ever design or illustrate for a band that you had never heard?
When I sit down to create an illustration for a rock poster I always listen to the band while I’m thinking and drawing. And yes, I go off the band name sometimes, or just a feeling the music gives off, or a song lyric. If it’s a band I’m not familiar with, I’ll go out and buy the CD and get to know the music before I start.

Have you ever been approached to design for any of your personal favourite artists/bands? Does this increase your personal pressure to do a good job!?
Yes I have, I’d say most of the posters I’ve done are for bands that I really like. When I really really like a band sometimes it increases the pressure, but in a good way.
Reflecting upon your band posters, how do you view your relationship between art and entertainment, and art as advertising/promotion?
Well it’s my job to create art that will draw people’s attention to the product or band at hand. I try to make that art as conceptually strong as I can, to make it more than just a cool image. In that respect it is automatically art, not just an ad. If you remove the band info or the text on it, it can stand on it’s own as a piece of art.
Other that your poster art, you produce work for comic books, advertising, galleries, conventions, merchandise and freelance, working within the mediums of fine art, painted and line art illustrations and drawings.
You have stated that it is important for you to ‘try to have your eggs in many baskets’.
I have spoken to other artists who have experienced the ‘horrors’ of the art world, including not being paid or not having copyright over their art work, so losing out financially and creatively. Do you find that having so many alternate skills, and creative mediums to work within, for many different clients and audiences, allows you financial security, and a sensibility and awareness of how you can independently make a successful living from your artwork?
Yes. If one client disappears it’s ok, I have plenty more to work with and other things to do. Nothing ever last forever.
Also, is it more motivating and inspiring for you to have lots of different projects on the go, and lots of different mediums to work with?
Do you find creating in alternative mediums & materials allows you the space to explore differing subjects?
Yes, it’s a very cool aspect about what I do and it’s suits my personality perfect. I’m still constantly doing art, but the medium is always changing, so it keeps me very interested. Just when I’m getting bored working on one thing I can start another. Like if I have been working on a painting all week, I can switch to a drawing, or answer emails, or cut some wood, or go on a walk and look at people.
You have stated that in terms of art production that ‘procrastination is certain death’. How do you keep yourself motivated, and to not get distracted?
That’s a constant battle... Ummm... I guess you could say that I’m kind of obsessive about certain things, so, I just have to make myself start, then I won’t stop for like 10 hours.
As a follow up to this question, in giving advice to fellow artists, you have offered: ‘There’s so much out there to make you a better person and artist. Don’t ever stop.’ Are you constantly striving to be a better artist?
To what degree does personal and creative growth, inspired by everything ‘out there’, directly affect your artistic production?
I’m always striving to be a better artist and to step outside my comfort zone. I think artists that find their niche and don’t ever sway from it have a tendency to drown in their own art. I think when an artist looks back at their work, there should be growth and evolution throughout their entire life. Different periods of exploration.
In terms of being a successful artist, do you personally think having qualifications and a substantial portfolio privileges artists, or are elements of luck, contacts, and being in the right place at the right time just as important?
Talent and ambition are number one, contacts and luck are second. But really it’s the magical combination of them all.
Commenting on success, I read you once state that ‘the trick is to make yourself a commodity. Make everyone want YOU’. In making yourself accessible to all as a commodity, are you ever in fear of Burnout? How do you curb burnout?
Saying no sometimes. No is probably the most powerful word you can say.
One of the most inspiring things I read about your artistic career is when you quit a job you didn’t feel was benefiting you, or interesting you, and forced yourself to instead find art work. Of this period you stated, ‘it was a scary few months trying to find work, I was freaking out about money, but it was the best thing I could have done for my art career’. Such a move seemingly requires a clear prior knowledge of your aims and aspirations in order to strive to create a life that fits your morals and your dreams. Have you always been so driven to create the life that you know that you want, as opposed to just bobbing along in life?
When I graduated I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had a 5 year plan, and I have somehow managed to do everything I wanted to do in 3 years. I just made myself a new 5 year plan.I once read a statement that read: ‘in this world, talk is cheap. Your ultimate statement is your life’.
Did you feel it important to focus your life on your art as a statement of your belief in your talents, and yourself?
Yes, of course. And if I died tomorrow, I would die satisfied that I lived my life to the fullest.

You have created illustrations for many comic book covers. Have you ever been tempted to produce any full comics yourself?
Not really, I prefer to paint single images. But never say never. Maybe someday it would be nice to paint a comic.
What do you enjoy most about the creative processes of drawing and painting?
It makes me happy.

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