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Tara McPherson Interview
IPMM / The Citrus Report
Published on 10/12/2010

I was interviewed by The Citrus Report at NYCC.  You can read the transcript below or check it out with photos from the convention at IPMM or The Citrus Report!

October 12th, 2010 | Published in Art, Features
Words by Evan La Ruffa, Photos by Matt Schuchman

“I would go to school forever if I could…except for spending the thousands of dollars for the degree.”
Tara McPherson is no stranger to the current climate of rock poster art and vinyl toys. We caught up with her at New York Comic Con this past weekend after a recent phone interview from her Brooklyn studio. At NYCC, she took part in The Cultyard, a grouping of like-minded creative companies who thought their appeal would be broadened by conglomerating at these larger scale art and culture events. The line to meet and greet Tara was long and constant, so we’re glad we got to do this interview before she arrived. We spoke after weeks of missing each other, something that has probably become commonplace for Tara, as her work and popularity extend farther into the future, with shows, books and toy deals lining up in quick succession.

We were a media partner for the event, so we snapped some photos of Tara’s booth, saw her graciously sign prints, and watched as fans patiently awaited a chance to scoop something and say hello. Her aesthetic is distinct and approachable, albeit from very divergent points of view. Her choice of color palette is very soft and welcoming, yet her imagery and symbolism indicates a substantial amount of humanity in her work; heartache, longing, the nature of the mind, and the process of evolving as an individual. Her heart-less characters have become a hallmark of sorts, and her work rate is incredible. Ahead, find out what this lifelong student has to say about creating beer labels for Dogfish Head, the thesis that is a solo show, and her artistic study of the water molecule.

EVAN: Alright, ready to go…
TARA: Wonderful…

EVAN: So, in looking over your creds, I saw Dogfish Head Brewery on your list of clients. They make some damn fine beer…what did you do for those guys?
TARA: I did two labels for them. One for a rasberry beer and another one for a seasonal beer. I got a a lot of emails from people saying they loved the beer and loved the labels, it was fun to do…

EVAN: Were you able to try those beers?
TARA: Yea, part of the deal in my contract for doing the labels was that they had me down to their brew house and restaurant. A friend and I drove down, and they gave us a tour of the brewery…we stayed at the Dogfish Suite at this hotel. The people at Dogfish head are cool. Really nice guys.

EVAN: I usually talk to artists, at least a little bit, about art school. In some cases people diminish it, in others, people feel lucky to have done that kinda thing. How do you feel about it?

TARA: I guess it just depends on your personality. I loved art school. I’ve always loved school in general, even when I was a kid. I just like the environment, it just suits me really well. I would go to school forever if I could…except for spending the thousands of dollars for the degree (laughs…)

EVAN: (Laughs…) Right, totally…
TARA: But, I treat life that way. The way that I work now is, ya know, prepping for a solo show is almost like working on a thesis. You do your research, and you put yourself through this process to get this body of work together.

EVAN: To what degree are you conscious of the things that influence your work when your actually drawing or painting? Are you always aware of what’s inspiring you, or is it more of a stream of consciousness thing?

TARA: I think it’s a little bit of both. There are specific things that I’m interested in, and that I’m researching, that are recurring themes in my work, but then there’s a lot of new stuff that I find out about that makes me feel like I should be putting it in there, and after maybe reading more on the topic, it somehow works together perfectly in a way I didn’t initially realize. And sometimes it gives it another meaning that I haven’t even figured out…..

EVAN: And your toys, you’ve done a few of those now. I definitely like seeing your work in the 3D, that’s gotta be cool for you too…
TARA: Yes! The toys are awesome! The only thing that sucks is that they sell out so fast, and you can’t really even get them anymore. But yea, it’s super fun. I’m going to start working on a new mini-figure set next year, and I have a couple of new things coming out with Kidrobot that should be out by the end of the year.

EVAN: And as far as art prints, “Fractal Valley” is one of my favorite pieces of yours.
TARA: Cool…

EVAN: What’s the back story on that piece?
TARA: I’ve been exploring water as a theme in a lot of my pieces, and that one was spawned by the “Weight of Water” series, and it’s about the cycle of water through gaseous, then liquid, then solid states, and how that might be an analogy for growth. The water molecule goes through these states but retains itself as a water molecule. “Fractal Valley,” is taken from that, but with darker tones. I learned that naturally occurring fractals are in lightning, clouds, snow, and mountains. And that kinda encompasses everything that’s in that piece. It’s also just a spooky image of this woman coming out of the water to get you (laughs…)

EVAN: I also love “We All Die Sometimes,” and I’ve heard you mention that the heart-less character was somewhat autobiographical, right?
TARA: Yea, initially. Now it’s kinda become this universal image. I think it’s something everybody can relate to. It’s fun to explore, but it’s turned into its own thing.

EVAN: I guess I like it in that sometimes I see images that are really direct in their metaphor, and its just like, yes. Of course. I’m glad someone was able to be that concise. It clicks. As far as these different projects you take on – toys, screen prints, etc. Do you consider yourself more one thing than another…

TARA: I consider it one big happy family of avenues that I can explore. Its fun for me. It makes it not boring. Right now I’m putting all my energy into painting, after the show, I’ll be working on the toy set, then a book, then some posters. It keeps me entertained, I see it all working together.

EVAN: And your 3rd book is coming up. That’s gotta be a big project, in putting all that together. It’s gotta be cool to see bound collections of your stuff…
TARA: Yea, it’s totally wonderful. It’s going to pick up where my 2nd book left off, and include the show I had last year and including the new stuff from this year. I need to figure out when it’s coming out. There are going to be more storied-explanations in there, whereas the last one was just imagery. It should come out some time next year hopefully…

EVAN: As a writer, I can think of a few ways I would describe your stuff, but how would you describe it?
TARA: My work? (Laughs)…I like the whole pop surrealism genre to describe it. I think that works really well with my vision and my aesthetic, and works that my cohorts are doing. Is that what you’re asking?

EVAN: Haha, sure. I mean, there are all these art-world terms that are used to describe stuff. Sometimes I find people make up words to describe their stuff. I’d say you work is playful, but also creepy.
TARA: Yea, a lot of people call it “sweetly creepy.” And I love that ya know, I like to hear people’s interpretations. Cuz as an artist, once you create something, you release it to the world. You also release the hold on how people will interpret it, it’s free range.

EVAN: I also think of your stuff as dream-like, almost mythical…
TARA: Definitely, I feel like it doesn’t exist in this world. It exists in a different universe.

EVAN: Cool, cool. Well to finish up, I usually ask people to name an artist or musician they dig. Create this lineage of sorts..who might you name?
TARA: Esao Andrews, he’s a local artist here in Brooklyn, he has a solo show at Jonathan Levine right before mine. His work is fantastic and not as well known as others. I also love poster artist Jay Ryan. He’s in Chicago, you know of him.

EVAN: Esao is great! And for sure, Jay is big in Chicago. Word, well thanks for making the time Tara!

TARA: Ok, cool!