MANILA, Philippines - Like her spellbinding art, it’s easy to spot Tara McPherson in a crowded room. As Manila’s who’s who gathered in Vinyl on Vinyl over at The Collective, it was an event fit for a queen; the closest thing to art royalty The Collective has ever hosted. Now, one may ask one’s self, why all the praise for Tara McPherson? For one thing, she has lent her talents to a variety of media, has worked with a variety of the greatest bands, and has worked in different countries, yet still possesses an artistic style and identity that is totally and recognizably hers. All hail the queen, indeed!
YOUNG STAR: Most of your work focuses on the female as subject or as muse. What makes the female persona such a joy to portray?
TARA MCPHERSON: Besides the female figure being such a traditional and beautiful subject to paint, I feel that my work, as personal and emotive as it is, is best portrayed with a female subject because I, the creator, am a female. What better voice for the thoughts of a woman than a woman? Except maybe for a bunny or a unicorn...
The “heart-shaped hole” is something that recurs in your work. Is that merely an artistic signature, or is there more to it than that?
I had been toying with that concept while I was in art school but had only made it into little sketches. Then, during a bad break-up after college, I thought it would feel so much better to actually draw and paint it, in a cathartic sense. It was finally time to paint her, because I needed to get that release out of myself. From there on, it’s grown into this iconic image that people everywhere can relate to. Regardless of language or location, it’s an image we can all relate to. That cycle of love and loss which repeats itself constantly in our lives. But I also feel I give my characters a sense of hope in their eyes. As life has its ups and downs, so do the characters in my world. Love and hate are two of the strongest primal emotions we have.
From what we see in your paintings and illustrations, there’s a hybrid of western and eastern styles, that infuse the playfulness of pop art with unique Japanese aesthetics. Is this true, and if so, what is it in these different styles that appeals to you?
Oh, definitely true. Before college, I used to manage a Japanese toy store and I got exposed to so many amazing Japanese artists like Yoshitoshi, Yoshitomo Nara, Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuya Terada, Hokusai... I have some Hokusai tattoos, actually, and I just recently bought some Yoshitoshi woodblock prints the last time I was in Japan. I don’t really read manga, but there’s a certain aesthetic to the flatness of Japanese artwork that really resonates with me. Conversely, I love the highly rendered art of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. So I think they find a nice balance in my work.
How was your experience working with DC and Dark Horse comics? Were comics something you’ve always wanted to do and will you work on more in the future?
I loved working on the comic covers with DC, they were always fun for me to do. And Dark Horse is such a great company I continue to work with on many different projects. I’m really happy with the comic work that I did early on in my illustration career, but I now want to focus more on my oil paintings. I feel I’m growing and finding a beautiful new path of expression that I need to continue to explore. There is something that’s too repetitive with interior comic work, so I won’t be doing any long page comics, but maybe in the future some short interior projects, and a cover here and there would be fun to do.
Aside from being an incredible illustrator and painter, you have also done some sculpting work. From your experiences with both media, what are the artistic opportunities sculpting offers?
Well, I wish I could say I sculpted the toys and fine art pieces myself but I didn’t. I think, if I tried, I’d be very good at it, but there’s just not enough hours in the day to do everything myself. The same goes with screenprinting my posters and art prints. If I did all the printing myself I’d have four times less time to create art. And the sculptors and printers I use are experts at what they do, so it’s wonderful to let them do their best work while I do mine.
You have worked with bands from Green Day to Death Cab For Cutie. What was the collaboration like with these bands? What was the most interesting collaboration you had in all of your music posters? And as an artist, what are the challenges in adapting something with a musical identity to a visual setting, and the challenges of combining the band’s artistic identity with your own?
With my rock posters, I try more to encapsulate the feeling of their music in the image, rather than go off on the band name. There is also very little art direction, if any, with making rock posters and it’s great that way. So the collaboration really is the relationship between their music and me. Sometimes I’ll take a more whimsical or humorous route in my posters, because the themes in my paintings can be so serious. It’s nice to feel free to do some silly things once in a while, and with rock and roll, you can! There are definitely some challenges to adapting certain bands’ identities with my style. But that’s the beauty with rock posters: it’s the artist’s interpretation. If it looks just like the record cover and it’s not a clever concept, maybe that doesn’t fit as well as something that is ironically opposite. Knowing the band members can be really helpful too, because once you have a certain sense of their personalities you’ll know how far you can go with certain ideas or not. Also, you have to think about all the different personalities out there buying the posters. Not everyone will love my work and I wouldn’t ever expect them to. But for certain people it will be the perfect match of music and art for their tastes.
Could you describe your creative process? If your work could be a song, what would it be?
My creative process begins with looking at books, traveling, observing people and how they interact with one another. Sometimes ideas hit like a bolt of lightning, and sometimes you have to let them simmer. Writing ideas out first can be a great way to get the drawing process started. I’d say if I took all that, and the painting I’m working on now and made it a song, it would sound like Misery is a Butterfly by Blonde Redhead.