Interview in Lemonade MagazineLemonade Magazine
Published on 12/01/2004
4 page interview by Peter Nicholson. Read the transcript below. Lemonade Magazine
Article by Peter Nicholson
"When I moved here I thought I needed it, but now I've had enough of it." laughs Tara McPherson about Portland, Oregon. The twenty-eight year old painter has only been here for a year, but already has plans to leave for New York. No matter where she settles, McPherson is sure to make her mark with art that grabs your imagination, wether it's hanging in the gallery or leaping off the cover of a comic book.
After growing up in Los Angeles, where, among other things, she learned to play the bass and get some serious tattoos from Incognito Tattoo in Pasadena, McPherson finally acted on the "hate " part of her love/hate relationship with the City of Angels and moved up the coast. She found Portland's art scene to be a little small after the sprawl of Los Angeles, although that certainly had its upside: plenty of time to work. For McPherson, that means spending long hours in her studio each day , where the rent is rather more reasonable than LA. "I'm here twelve hours a day, at least," she says, adding that her experience in art school at Los Angeles's Art Center (which she described as "like the army") prepared her for long hours and constant deadlines.
But it's clear that McPherson is not complaining, just sharing the reality of what is required to make a living as an artist. Answering E-mails, maintaining her website, and staying in touch with the various people who buy her work are just some of the jobs she has to take care of beyond the actual painting itself.
"The subject matter and the concepts are constantly changing. Just when I'm getting sick of doing something, I can switch to something else." This isn't necessarily not doing art, but changing formats- from paintings that hang in galleries, to private commissions, to comic book covers, to posters for rock shows, McPherson has many different outlets for creative compulsions. "When i've finished a painting after 80 hours, I can put the paintbrush down, wash it. I can turn away from that and start drawing... I can move on and focus on something else." Each of the different venues seem to fulfill McPherson's different needs, from the intense, consuming details of her paintings, giving voice to her emotions on relationships, to the simple quirky images of gig posters expressing her love for music.
The show posters began with a few fliers promoting her own band's shows before they took a life of their own. "At first I wanted to keep the them separate from my painting, I didn't even want to put them up on my web site. It was like this weird retarded baby on the side." she giggles. "But they turned out to be really fun and the art work in combination with the band - people took to them and I was really surprised." She ended up developing a network of bands, record labels, and promoters who want her posters and it doesn't hurt that 95% of the posters she does now are for bands she herself likes.
Whatever the forum, McPerson's art is immediate, vibrant, and instantly engaging. Robots hold out their hearts in offering, hummingbirds hover menacingly around doe-eyed boys, and tattooed teddy bears smoke cigarettes in her world. There is a tension between her paintings' clean composition and confident lines and the ambivalent, quirky subject matter that induces a moment of disconnection from reality. The feeling is somewhat akin to those dreams where some action is totally implausible, but makes perfect sense with in the dreams' own context.
The otherworldly logic is a perfect match for comic books (or graphic novels, if you prefer) and McPherson has found a home for her at DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. She has painted covers for edgy titles like The Witching, Lucifer, and Thessaly: Witch for Hire. Working with the books script and whatever artwork has already been completed (which sometimes is nothing at that point); McPherson enjoys the challenge of making the first impression on a reader. "One of the things that I never realized about [doing covers] was that there's a lot of room for me to put in my own vibe, my own feel, my own take on the story line. There's a lot of room for interpretation." Her cover work is imbued with the same emotion as her own paintings and McPherson says the attachment is the same. "I definitely put the same energy in to them. because I love painting so much- it still feels like my own, even though technically the copyright on the characters is DC Comics. I feel like they're my little babies too", she chuckles.
So McPherson is done with Portland and off to New York. In addition to taking advantage of being in the same city as DC Comics and hopefully finding a band to play bass in, McPherson plans on cutting out some of her smaller jobs and participating in group shows with the goal of concentrating on creating work suitable for a solo show. She also will be moving off the cover and doing her first comic book interior for Project Superior and will be writing and illustrating an "adult children's" book for Baby Tattoo. Busy times ahead for McPherson- but New York should be a properly large canvas for her bold vision.