Interview in JuxtapozJuxtapoz
Published on 12/12/2006
The January 2007 issue of Juxtapoz magazine features an 8 page interview by Jane Paine.
You can read the transcript below! Juxtapoz
"Tara McPherson: (Un)Lonely Girl"
Interview by: Jane Paine
Tara McPerson's fingers are sticky. Art sticky. Though known for her poster art- she has a blockbuster show at BLK/MRKT Gallery last year- McPherson dabbles in, well, everything. She crafts paintings, posters, comics, toys, and teaches. Last fall she designed and released her first book, Lonely Heart, through Dark Horse. McPherson took a break from her hectic schedule to talk with Jane Paine about how sweet it is. You've had a lot of success in the past few years, but you've been working for a long time. How did you start out?
I drew as a child, but I think that everyone draws as a child. But I do remember being more creative in comparison to other children. I remember making a gift box for a friend. Beforehand, I went to 7-11 and bought a bunch of candies and I filled the box up with this story I made from the candies, gluing the words in. It was a huge box o' candy. I would do stuff like that all the time. When did you realize that you could actually work as an artist professionally?
I actually went to a magnet art school when I was younger, so I always knew it was a possibility. From a young age I was exposed to so much- painting, design, performance, whatever. It was so much fun, and it really gave me a change to explore so many things. I knew from then that I wanted to be an artist.
In high school, I thought that painting and drawing were fun, but photography had such quick results. But I didn't feel challenged by high school, so I took a proficiency exam and started community college. All of the art classes were full, so I took an astronomy class. I became the vice president of the astronomy club and was planning on transferring to a four-year college as an astrophysics major, I took all these math classes.
When I [did] finally get into the photo class, it had such a horrible teacher. I had this crisis-epiphany. I knew I could be happy with the [astronomy] class, but I couldn't picture myself sitting alone, logging data every single night... I took more art classes at community college, focusing on printmaking. My portfolio when I transferred to Art Center was nearly all etchings. i did some silkscreening, woodcuts, linocuts, stuff like that, but it was all print. It's funny doing so much silkscreening now, how the past really fortells the future.
After the community college, I knew I wanted to paint. I looked at several schools, but so many of them only focused on fine art, rather than figurative art or illustration. The Art Center had exactly what I wanted... They really allowed you to do what you wanted, while helping you to grow. I didn't feel like anyone was trying to steer me in any particular direction, which is something I hear from people in other art schools. Experimentation is the key to individuality. I hate it when people tell me what to do. How did you make the transition from art student to full-time artist?
I started getting little illustration jobs from friends while I was in college. As I was becoming a better artist, they were becoming editors. They'd ask if I wanted to illustrate some article.. One of the first jobs I had was illustrating a sex advice column for a bikini magazine. I did maybe four of those in a row.
...I [also] started showing my paintings in gallery shows while I was in school, but after graduation I just did everything I could- sending out promo cards, making phone calls, meeting with people. My very first job out of school was assisting this painter. His art was very organized and geometric. I did that for five or six months. After that I had a real freak out about what I was going to do. I was broke and eating ramen... I got a job at a lithography company for actors [where] I retouched headshots. I took off pimples and bags and made [the customers] look younger. That was my one regular job. Then I just started getting so much freelance work that I quit.
You were already doing poster work at that time.
Yeah. I've played bass since I was about 15, but since I didn't have time to play while at Art Center, right after [graduation] I started a band with my friends. It was great- at one time the singer lived next door, the drummer was my roommate and the guitar player lived across the street... I started doing flyers, just little black and white ones... I would make 11x17 in-color flyers to put up in Amoeba. That's how it started- totally accidentally. I wanted to do editorial and advertising illustration and show in galleries. But I had [just] started to do posters... when I asked the Knitting Factory in Hollywood if I could do poster for their shows, and they said yes, I was so stoked. My first poster was in 2002, but it feels so long ago.
And from there you just built up momentum?
[After] I'd done a whole bunch of posters for the Knitting Factory, I approached Goldenvoice, a huge concert promoter in L.A. I showed them my book, and then I started doing posters for them. I would look at their website for upcoming shows and say to them, "I really want to do Duran Duran; can I do that?" Then they would contact the band's management, get approval, and then give me the go. I'd have total free reign ... by then i was doing all sorts illustration work. I feel like my work's been split into thirds; a silkscreen art (posters and prints), a third gallery work, and a third freelance work.
What sort of themes can be found in your work?
For me, my art is [the] place to work out my own dealings with people, but my friends stories, too. When you're outside a situation, it's so much easier to comment on, seeing my friends going through break-ups and getting back together. It's a great source of inspiration for me, to tell their stories through imagery. I find it fascinating to see how people deal with things.
[For example] when I was working on my Depeche Mode poster, I knew that I wanted a close-up of a woman's head, looking up. I knew it needed something else, but wasn't sure what. My friend came over and he was fighting with his girlfriend on the phone, texting, going back and forth. I just started doodling. I was thinking about all the things they had been going through, and I was thinking about how she must have been feeling. Her, at her house, on the phone, crying and crying, and I thought, "That's it."
I like exploring love and the loss of love, the whole dynamic, going through that loneliness, the idea that your soul can be so lonely even when you have all the things in the world. How can you love someone but [have] it still not work out. Working through those motifs led me to Orion, my heartless girl. She's definitely a part of me. But you're also doing so many more things- your book, toys...
Yeah, I'm working on tons of things with Kid Robot, and they're probably going to come out mid-2007. Now I'm also doing interiors of comics- I've been doing covers for the past few years for Vertigo. So I guess now my [three-way] split isn't really applicable anymore.
How did you start working for Vertigo?
Sherri Cullison interviewed me for International Tattoo Art, and one of the editors at Vertigo saw it. I came home one day, checked my email, and saw that DC Comics wanted a press kit. I was like "Holy Shit!" I didn't even have a press kit. But I knew how to make one- before college I was David Duchovny's manager's assistant's assistant. I used to make his press kits, so I knew exactly what to do. Those skill really translate...
Seriously, I made it look really nice, and put in everything I could. I actually sent her prints that I had made of my paintings. I put everything I had that I thought was cool and FedExed it to her the same day. She emailed me back saying it was the best press kit she'd ever gotten... they really wanted to use me as a cover artist. I was thinking it wold be for something in the next year, but two weeks later they offered me my first cover, a guest cover for Lucifer. Then I did the covers for a four-issue series and before that was even done they asked me to do the covers for a new series, The Witching. That was maybe three years ago.
Were you interested in comics before then?
Yeah. In my late teens I started getting into comics. Funny enough, I used to read Vertigo comics. It was totally fate. My editors wanted to know if I wanted anything, an old issue of Creature, whatever. I told them that I had them all already. Comic artists were definitely an early inspiration for me. What do you have on the horizon?
I've been doing lectures recently - one at the University of Arizona , one at the New York Library for AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). I've been doing them for a while, but now I'm getting flown places. They make me so nervous, but I say yes because I love a challenge. My Kid Robot toys should be coming out mid-year... We're making an Orion figure, which will be very elegant and ethereal, sexy. It will be a nice change, to go from all these cute toys to something more adult.
I'm also working on a book called Donor, by Steven Seagle. He wrote House of Secrets and a bunch of other cool titles for Vertigo. He wrote it for me to illustrate. It's perfect for me- he's such a fantastic writer. That'll be a 100-page, hard cover graphic novel. It's the main project I'm working on. After that, I'm having a show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in February 2008. I'd like to focus on more gallery work.
I was thinking about my 10-year plan. I just want to stay here in New York and paint. I feel like I've been saying no to a lot of stuff, because I felt spread too thin... And there are still so many things to do.... I want to say yes to everything. I hate [saying no]. I always have to apologize, "This sounds so cool, but there's just no way I can do it. My editor will kill me."