It’s an all too familiar leap – from a California girl to a New York City one. Something seems to call those creative types from the Golden Coast out to the darker side, but to many aspiring artists, it just seems like an obvious next step.
Tara McPherson made the move from Los Angeles to New York about four years ago, shortly after receiving her BFA from Art Center in Pasadena, and though she is all grown up and becoming an established artist in one of the most competitive scenes in the world, she still has many of those girl-like charms.
Drawing from personal experience, people and relationships, McPherson’s work reveals an innocent whimsy that many women never seem to shed, and for good reason. Bold colors, quirky cartoon like symbols and characters and unusual environments draw a sharp contrast to sensual central subjects, and has made both McPherson and the women in her paintings worth watching.
Her career beginnings, though we’d never really call them humble, began in an unexpected place between music and art. She started out making band posters for friends and various groups that she was into (she has since done posters for Beck, Modest Mouse, the Melvins, Depeche Mode and many more). That, in turn, progressed into more lucrative means as a working artist, and opened up the possibilities to create sellable merchandise that would hang in the homes of music fans all across the world.
Working Class sat down with the lovely McPherson in her studio in Williamsburg. She was in between designing a new line of toys for New York-based company Kid Robot and creating wrist bands, badges and flyers for the upcoming All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the UK. She is a busy lady, but not too busy to support a local ‘zine, and for that we love her.
WC: Tell us about your beginnings in New York and your ambitions for moving here?
I’ve been here for about four years. I graduated in 2001, but I was more focused on gallery work than commercial work when I came to New York. It was my intention and it happened, I was really happy about that.
I was really busy with work [in Los Angeles], I was doing posters and I just started to make toys. I did one then, and I wanted to work with Kid Robot more, that was a goal. I wanted to show in galleries more. I just wanted to not be in Los Angeles and I knew that I needed a big city with a lot of art and music and cultural things happening, and New York was just the obvious solution.
WC: How has music influenced you as an artist?
I’ve been playing bass since I was 15 and I’ve always been interested in music. After I graduated from school I had enough time to be in a band, so ever since I’ve been in bands.
I love music; it’s a super important part of my life. So after I graduated and tried to make an income I started to do rock posters. It wasn’t something I set out to do intentionally while I was figuring it all out. I knew I wanted to paint and then the posters just kind of happened and I went with it, and it’s so much fun! It marries my love of art and music together to this really cool piece, that’s inexpensive for people to own and its printed in multiple so it gets around. I’ve done like 100 posters and it’s amazing to think that my posters are hanging in people’s houses all across the world. It’s so cool.
WC: What are you working on now?
I have new toys coming out with Kid Robot in a month. I’m working on the posters and wrist bands and badges for the All Tomorrow’s Parties in May. That’s really fun. I’m going on my book tour all summer, and during that I’m doing an exhibit with Devendra Banhart in Barcelona, so I’m going to do a series of paintings for that show. I’m traveling all summer and then I come back to New York and start working on my solo show with Jonathan Levine Gallery.
WC: Is it difficult to stay motivated ever?
I have a really high motivation level, but I also balance it out. I’ve just been traveling for two months. It’s a give and take; I can’t work 100% of the time. I’m not a robot. So I just take the time to relax after I’ve done something really big.
I have the love of my art and doing my art. I know I work really hard, but I also play really hard too. And I know if you do too much playing in New York the city will eat you up and spit you out. In a sense, that’s what I love about it here, [laughing] it kind of weeds out the weak.
WC: Is it ever difficult to sell your work or your pieces, do you get attached?
It used to be that way, when I first started out. Now it’s scanned and there’s prints of it and I can see it on my website. I mean, there is nothing like having the painting right in front of you in person. It is always devastating finishing a big show and then just when it’s finally all done, you only have a few days before they dry and then they’re picked up and shipped off. Being surrounded by them feels so good and then they’re gone. You’re like, okay, ‘bye.’
That’s why the prints are so cool, because I have copies right in front of me.
WC: Do you ever struggle with the art world as a business, are there any aspects that frustrate you about being a full-time artist?
I think I have more business sensibilities than most artists. I managed a toy and art store for about three years while I was in college. So I was wholesaling toys and art books, and buying stuff for the store, ordering, invoicing, and doing all kinds of stuff like that. Those skills specifically pertain to my business now.
It’s actually how I got so into merchandising and wanting to do this with myself because I got so into character oriented art work. I knew that was what I wanted to do, and I’ve always wanted to make stuff. So it’s something I’ve been very proactive about. Now I know how to work up contracts and what prices to negotiate with people and what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Art is a business; you can’t deny that part. I have no problem doing it, and it’s also a balance from doing all the drawing. It’s such a functional aspect of being an artist.
WC: Any words of wisdom for artists who are interested in coming to NY?
I think it’s 1/3 talent, 1/3 really, really hard work, and 1/3 luck. Because it is about who you know, who you meet out at openings, and who you get to be friends with; and then they’re like oh, do you want to do this show with such and such, and you’re like ‘yeah, totally!’ That is so much a part of it, but it’s a combination of all those things that grants the golden ticket I guess.
Visit Tara McPherson at www.taramcpherson.com