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Interview in Luminous
Published on 2/01/2007

Interview by Colleen Fischer in this nicely done art magazine.  You can read the transcript below.

"Tara McPherson: A Natural Evolution"
Interview by Colleen Fischer

Issue #1

Tara McPherson is a powerhouse. Her ongoing art includes earthy and ethereal band posters, paintings, comic books, and book covers. Last year saw the manifestation of Lonely Heart, an entire book devoted to her silk screen posters and illustrations, as well as graphic novel Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, which features her comic art. What's more, she's teamed up with company Kid Robot in the last year to design some recurring characters in her art as toys, including space explorer Ace Kittyhawk and Ion Z. Throughout 2007, she's focusing on painting a 100-page graphic novel called Donor, and she's making plans for a 15-piece exhibit in the beginning of 2008. In an interview, she is refreshingly casual and gregarious, with smiling eyes under her long bangs.

When you were a kid, what kind of art did you like? Did you have any artists who inspired you back then?

When I was really young, I was super into Garfield, and Mad Magazine, and The Far Side, stuff that definitely had a humor sensibility to it. As long as I was reading or drawing, my mom would buy the magazine, if it was inspiring in one form or another. Also the kid's magazines, like Highlights, or whatever, but yeah, I really remember liking those when I was younger. I was always super into cartoons.

You mention on your website that you took astronomy classes and astrophysics, and you wanted to major in that for a while. Do you ever get to use your knowledge in that area in your art?

Well, sometimes. Not necessarily the Theory of Relativity or anything, but there's a definite tendency toward space and exploration, like the 2 characters Ace and Ion. They're, like, space explorers going to new galaxies, and discovering new creatures. So, I try to implement that. I do want to incorporate that into my art more.

How has your style changed since you began? What techniques have you developed that now make your art what it is?

I think, always experimenting, trying new things, and always pushing myself. Like, even after graduating, I'm always trying to learn and absorb and memorize, and try new things. I would love to get my master's degree, but I really don't feel the need to right now, because I'm always challenging myself, and I'm constantly reading, looking at new artists, going to museums and looking at techniques in person and trying new things. As far as how my style evolves, I'm not trying to do it, so whatever happens is natural - a natural evolution- which happens with all artists. I mean, I can see it in my old stuff, it's so different. But I didn't so it consciously, it's just growing as a person, and as an artist.

When you look back at your old stuff, what do you notice is most different?

It's horrible! (Bursts into laughter) No, I don't hate it, I just love all the new stuff. Just an evolution in sensitivity to line work, color, and I would say just a more evolved and more sophisticated quality to it. I take more time with things now.

A theme I'm sure everyone notices in your art is the cut- out heart that you do a lot. I read your recent interview with Juxtapoz, and you called the girl with the cut-out heart Orion.

Yeah, I finally named her. It took a year! Long time.

Can you tell us a little more about that, about the idea, how you came up with it, and what it means to you?

Well, originally, I went through a really horrible break-up, and I painted the very first one. Actually, I think I did a drawing of her a while I was in college, and I painted that one while I was still in school, that first painting. But it just helped me through, really get out what I needed to get out. My artwork is very cathartic. That's initially how that started.
And then I just really liked the character, in and of itself, and just seeing experiences that friends go through. It's just this basic, deep human emotion, this feeling of loss, wether it's love or death. It's really hard to describe, but then everyone experiences it. So that character kind of encompasses that. I just really like that image.

What do you think your art represents to your fans? What do they think of when they think of it?

I get some pretty cool fan mail from people that say it helps them identify with other people having similar problems, or conflict that I'm trying to get out with my art, it helps them kind of deal with it. And that it's either inspiring technically, or the imagery makes them feel comforted when they are going through a hard time.
I feel like that's the one thing I've focused on, and I'm working on a whole new theme for a solo show next year, so this next year I'll be painting that. And I want to use that as a base, but kind of have it evolve. So, it'll change. But i feel like that's one body of work, and I'm embarking on a new body of work. I'm still trying to figure out what it's gonna be. It's all up there. I've been just contemplating what- like, reading things, trying to get the theme nailed down before I even start drawing.

How do you find the time and the energy to work on all the aspects of your business and also be in a band?

(Laughs.) I have to. I have to play music just like a have to make art. So, it's not a question of "Do I have the time?" I just do it. Make the time.
The business stuff I like doing because it gives me a break. I feel like I'm procrastinating from drawing or painting, because I'm answering emails, or I'm shipping, or whatever I'm doing. But it's all interrelated, and it's all essential aspects to being an artist. It is running a business. A lot of people don't think that it is , but it is. You definitely have to pay attention to that part. I know a lot of artists that don't.
So, it's good, because it gives balance. I paint, and then I email, and then I play music, and then I draw, and then I run to the post office. It's work, but it gives me a break from , like, sit down- do this. I need that constant flitting around. Sometimes when I'm working, I'm kind of scatterbrained. I'll start at one thing, and then be walking over to one end of the studio, and I'll put it down, and I'll see something else and start doing that for five minutes, and then I'll come over here and get distracted, and then like an hour later I'll come back to that first thing, like, "Oh, yeah! I needed to take that over there." It's like a run in circles. It feels fun that way. (Laughs.)

What kind of music do you listen to while you work?

I listen to everything from jazz and old bluegrass stuff to metal, indie stuff. A huge, wide variety of music. It depends on my mood.

You've been doing some teaching and lecturing lately. How do you like doing that?

I get really nervous, but I do it because I like to challenge myself. I never thought I wanted to teach, but Parsons [The New School for Design] offered me a position, so, I took it. And it's so satisfying helping people shape their style and their art and the way they think. And seeing that evolution throughout the term, from beginning to the end, is so rewarding and so satisfying. I never thought I had the desire in me until I really experienced it firsthand, and it's really a great feeling to be able to help someone else with their art. Now I'm not nervous at all. I think I was for the first few classes, and then I was fine.
The lecturing? It's fun though, like, once I get started talking, then I'm like, "Blablablablabla!" And I usually go through slides, like a Powerpoint presentation, just talk about stuff, and then do a Q and A at the end. It's pretty cool! It's fun. I like it.

So what are you working on right now?

Like, a million things! (Burst into laughter.) So, well, just finalizing the toy line. And I'm starting the 100-page comic. I've been working with the writer for a while, for the past year. Now I actually have a very difficult thing, though, the job. And I just kind of got in over my head, and had all these books to finish, and now I'm just going to say no to everybody, because I really want to paint this, my comic. It'll look like the fables book [Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Wilingham]. But, I imagine it'll take a long time. So, that's what I need to work on. That's my priority now.
And as I said before, I'm working on the theme for my next solo show, which will be at Jonathan LeVine Gallery, February 2008. And there are some big things I want to do with that. I want to do some large [pieces]. I think maybe I can make then with fiberglass, or, I don't know about resin. But I have to figure out how I'm going to do that. And just solidify the theme of the show, conceptually. And then I'll start painting that in conjunction with the comic. And those two things will take me the next year. Hopefully that's all I'll be doing because otherwise i'll go crazy. (Laughs.)