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Article in Empty Magazine
Empty Mag
Published on 11/15/2005

10 page article written by Jay Riggio in Issue 5 of this Australian Art and Design magazine.
Read the article below.

"Seriously Driven Tara McPherson"
Article by: Jay Riggio
Issue 5

What drives most people to do anything at all? I mean seriously, in the grand scheme of things why really execute anything productive at all? Once we overcome the mentally crippling bombardment of war, poverty, starvation, murder, hatred, and personalities that stink, there are also the ephemeral pleasures blocking the road to progress. Things like pistachio ice cream, Rambo box sets, alchohol, reality television... you get my point.

Most people tend to succumb to these many distractions and overlook the endless possibilities, preferring to take a leisurely drive down the highway of life. There are some though doing well above the speed limit, exhibiting more than just drive, possessing more than just ambition. Tara McPherson not only bears this supernatural hunger for accomplishment, she cultivates it as if the notion of another day never existed.

Aside from her obvious artistic skill that's made her one of the most unique and sought after artists. Tara is a workhorse. While most 29 year olds are letting life pass them by, Tara is quickly ensuring her immortality as an artist. Almost never sleeping, she works 20 hours a day, multi- tasking art projects for clients that continually hire her.

Her work seems to be based on many of the heart's symptoms and since the heart's workings are forever diametrically opposed, so are the subjects in her work. Sweetly innocent characters are counterbalanced with elements of pain, suffering, disbelief and the gentlest hope. It's as if Tara's caught up in an unstoppable manic episode that's left her hopping from one mood to the next, without reason, without care and with every purpose of purging herself of the complexity that lies beneath.

From afar Tara has as strong presence as any woman I've encountered. With arms fully tattooed, jet- black hair, pale skin, and eyes capable of reducing strong men to their knees, its obvious the intensity of her work extends to her exterior. Sitting face to face with her I was unsure of what to expect and was completely taken aback by her general warmth. Soft spoken, with a distinct West Coast accent, Tara exhibits an adolescent purity and playfulness that completely counters her intimidating appearance. It's as if she mirrors the conflicted subjects in her paintings, or more likely they mirror her.

The following interview took place in Tara's Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment, as her summer intern read close by and her roommate appeared to be gearing up for a night out. I couldn't have wished for a more pleasant and easy- going interview.
As I was packing up my tape recorder and prepping to leave, I blurted out, "I think you're the most ambitious person I've ever met," and pointed out that I was going to rush home and get some work done. Smiling, she responded, "Thats all I hope for, I hope to inspire people." And she did. Tara McPherson had inspired me. Find your love, exhaust it till it hurts and then do it all over again. It's just a small part of being driven, something Tara knows all about.

Okay Tara, let's get the mandatory stuff out of the way?

I'm 29 years old. Born in SF, raised in Los Angeles. Left there at 27. I went through periods of my life where I wanted to leave L.A. so bad. Then I'd get caught up in something else, going to college or getting a job or a relationship. I finally had a little window of opportunity to leave and I did.

Where did you go from L.A.?

I went to Portland for like a year and a half. I have family there and it's where my poster publisher (Diesel Fuel Prints) is based. The time I spent in Portland was great because I got to hang with family and got to solidify the relationship with my poster publisher. Then came here to Brooklyn.

Why Brooklyn?

Portland didn't have enough of an art community. I felt that a lot of the people I met there weren't ambitious enough and that doesn't suit my personality, so I came here.

How do you like it?

Well I've only been here for 3 months and I like it a lot- it's great. I always stay up late working anyway and everything stays open so late here. If I do want to get out, I can work 'til two or three in the morning and still go meet friends for an hour. I feel that my days here are just fuller and I can accomplish so much more. It's been great. I have a lot of friends here.

How did you get started on a career in art?

I've been interested in it my entire life. I can't remember a time when I wasn't drawing. I always went to 'art magnets'. I don't know if they have them anywhere else but it's like a specialty for junior high and high school where you can focus on art. I always went to those. Actually, I really got into photography at the end of HS and beginning of college, but a shitty photography teacher turned me off. Then I got completely into Astronomy, which is odd, kind of backlash against art. I hate math, but I really like science; it just fascinates me so much. I was the Vice President of the Astronomy club in Community College (laughs). I did that for a while, but I was still doing art. Actually the first t-shirt I ever did was for the Astronomy club (laughs). It was like a cheesy little sun and moon, but it was glow in the dark, so it was pretty neat.

What made you come back to art?

I was going to have to transfer schools if I really wanted to focus on this science thing and reality set in. I thought, "Hey do I really want to be sitting in an observatory by myself, logging in data in the middle of the night? Would I be doing art in my spare time? What was I realistically going to be happy with doing forever? At that point I stopped taking the science classes and started taking more art.

Has the style of your work always been similar?

In retrospect yeah, as in anyone's art, you can look back and see the evolution. I never really forced the style; I saw so many peers do that. Maybe it kind of held me back in the beginning, as far as teachers saying, "your stuff has to be cohesive." I didn't really bother with that. I just did what I wanted to do. And maybe it was scattered at first but in the end it's really just what I do. I'm never trying to emulate any certain thing.

Someone called you the 'master of the sweetly creepy.' Is there an ongoing theme in your work? It's dark but has a sense of humor and innocence about it.

Yeah, lately I've been doing that. Tension and uneasiness fascinates me. Something that can be aesthetically beautiful at first but effect the viewer more over time. Something sightly disturbing will draw an audience more than just a pretty picture. Hopefully it evokes thought in the viewer. Not just saying that all my work does that... sometimes it is just a pretty picture.

Pretty with a dark side?

Yeah, but it's not totally dark. Going back to aesthetics. That's what I love about portraiture. It captures the perfect moment in time, this idealized state. I think I have a real natural tendency to do that with my art. I don't want it to be that perfect, because nothing is perfect in reality. Darkness gives it a twist.

So you try and tone down the beauty in your work?

Not tone down the beauty. I like doing the idealized state, but as far as including a darker sub- theme, I think it offsets it. Things are not untouchable, not unbreakable.

What's your process like?

I start off a lot of work by writing ideas. In the writing I do, I try and come up with an idea through brainstorming and word association. Sometimes it's about a certain object I put in, or the position of that object. Sometimes it references from the past or history or takes cues from older paintings.

What's the split between commercial and personal work?

Lately? I've wanted to do more fine art but to answer your question, yes it's mostly commercial work at the moment. I don't want to deny the commercial success that I've gotten because I love doing it. I love doing the advertising illustrations and band poster work and I've been doing a lot more toy design lately. I don't consider that fine art; I consider that still being commercial work. I mean it's personal but it's still for the commercial world, for a product.

Does your lack of personal time get you down?

For a while I really wanted to just do gallery work and I was going to lay off the commercial stuff. But I've come to a point now where I'm enjoying it because it's fun and I still love what I do. So I figure I'm gonna let it flow and see what happens. A lot of artists that I admire are in their forties and only now are they getting to do more gallery work. If I did commercial work for the next ten years or so... well I think that would be awesome.

You're pretty well known for your band poster work, how did you get into that?

It wasn't something I totally planned on. After I graduated I had time for a band, so I started one. My first band was called "The New Detectives" and I started doing our show flyers, the little dinky black and white Xerox ones. Then I started making nicer posters and making them for friends and then I asked a local venue if I could do their posters for them. Not long after I actually started getting paid. Well they paid for the printing and I got a small fee and it just grew from there. By then I had done more and more. A lot of people knew me through my gallery stuff so when I started doing posters I was unsure of how people would receive them. They like them by all accounts, which is good cause I like doing them.

How does it normally work? Do band or record labels contact you to design a poster?

Sometimes. Mainly, they go through the venues. Sometimes the bands will contact me or the booking agent or the label. It's always different.

What do you do when you're not working?

Well since I've been here (Brooklyn) I've been trying to go to more art openings and trying to get out more and have a life. What I was saying before, coming here I feel like i can have a life too. I like dinner and drinks with friends.

When do you sleep?

I haven't been sleeping much at all lately (laughs). I've been having this horrible case of insomnia. I'll work until two or three but then I still can't fall asleep. My brain won't shut down, it just keeps going.

What are you working on now?

Right now I'm finalizing my stationary set for Darkhorse comics. I'm working on a beer label for this fancy beer called 'Dogfish Head Brewery'. I'm doing a robot painting for the 'Super 7 Show'. And I possibly might do my own graphic novel. It's in the works. If I end up doing that, I'm going to spend the next year working on that. Then I have a bunch of commissions coming up; I have a bunch of band posters. I'm doing some toy designs; I just finished a design for Kid Robot. I'm doing circus punk toys, I always have a million jobs lined up.

With your upcoming commissions, do you have creative freedom to do whatever you want?

There are people who're getting these really expensive, huge paintings and I ask them what subject matter do you want? And they say, "do whatever you want." I'm like, "do you want a girl, an animal or what?" They just say "Go for it." So it's a great position to be in. I think I do my best work when I have complete creative freedom. If there are too many guidelines, it can feel stifling and get kind of boring.

Do you have an agent?

No I do it all myself. it's cool because with the music posters, you take off the band name and I still have this really cool piece of art that I can make a t-shirt or a toy or a sticker with. I keep copyright on everything I do except for the comic covers for DC. Other than that all my characters are mine and I can reuse them. I've recently been doing merchandising licensing deals with sticker companies, shirts and cell phone wallpaper, stuff like that.

That sounds like a good way of doing things?

A lot of times when I get hired to do stuff, they'll want the copyright on it and I say, "no absolutely not . " You can use it for this and this, but I want the copyright on it. When I explain to them, 9 times out of ten they agree with it. They realize that the artist should keep the copyright on his or her creations.

What inspires you to do the stuff you do?

Well, I'd say in the last two or three years, relationship problems (laughs). It's awesome inspiration. People's interactions and people's relationships. I've really been delving into the whole lost love theme. The end of love or sorrows of love. Even when you're in love, the sadness that can occur. I would say my work is really autobiographical because I went through a really bad break up, on and off with the same person two years ago. I would say it's a way for me to explore my feelings while producing something everyone can relate to. I try and keep a lighthearted feel to it so it's whimsical and cute.

You're so motivated. Do you ever get burnt out and are like, "I don't want to do anything today?'

Yeah. But then I feel guilty. When I think I'm not doing anything it probably still seems like I'm doing a million the to the average person. About a year ago, I was so overworked, I just freaked out and went to Europe for a month. I didn't even pick up a pencil. It was nice; I came back and was ready to rock. Lately, I've been traveling to comic or poster art conventions, so it gives me time. I'll be gone for four or five days. I'm still doing work because I'm still meeting with people and selling stuff. It gives me a break with my creative side and gives me a chance to work on the business side.

Who designed your tattoos?

I've designed them all. I haven't drawn them. There's a difference. I'd feel weird about getting my own art on me.

Has anyone had your art tattooed on them?

Yeah, a bunch of people. I always hear about it but no one ever sends me photos. I've seen a couple. The guy that did my website, him and his wife for their wedding anniversary, they got matching tattoos of a skull flower I did. It's cool. I love it. It's the ultimate honor.