Tara McPherson

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Tara McPherson is kind of a rock ‘n roll chick. A post-college break-up led her to the creation of a now iconic image in the pop-surrealist world; the vacant heart wanders on and on. Well-known for her canvas-based illustration, she has also lent her hands to the creation of multiple comic books, vinyl toys, and rock show posters. Check out the interview to find out where her heart goes next.

“After hearing low-brow being used so much, I just don’t know, that makes me think of the So-Cal hot rod scene. My work is nothing like that. It takes place in a whole different universe.”

Format: You are famous for your missing heart motif. Where does this come from? Where does your heart wander?
Tara McPherson: It has wanderlust. It started with a bad break-up I went through after college. I had been toying with that idea and threw that into character. I thought it was so much better to actually draw and paint it, in a cathartic sense. From there, it grew in to this iconic image that people could relate to. It’s something we can all relate to, I think, the cycle of love and loss which repeats itself constantly and constantly in our lives.

Format: Yeah, it’s definitely a very intimate expression that you are sharing with the world.
Tara McPherson: Yeah, it is, but it’s grown beyond me, it’s an icon for everybody. It’s not just the void in the chest, but a reference to body anomalies, mutations, modifications, things like that. It’s also symbolic for the physicality of our being.

Format: You have a great history of producing rock posters. Were you inspired or mentored by anyone? I noticed that Frank Kozik, another poster artist, wrote the foreword of your first book published with Darkhorse.
Tara McPherson: Yeah, Frank definitely helped me a lot. He was an inspiration and father figure. He was the guy who was telling me like, ‘Alright! Let me show you what to do.’ He was really helpful.

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Format: Was there anything that pushed you into the rock show poster world?
Tara McPherson: No, it was funny, when I was in school, I used to collect the posters, but never intended on making any. But after I graduated, I had time to be in a band again, and those duties got pushed to me. I would make the flyers, etc. I had friends that were doing posters too and it evolved from there. At one point, The Knitting Factory in LA wanted posters done one time, so I pitched them on some concepts and asked if they would pay for the prints plus a small fee. In the end I made $75, with almost half of that going to print costs, but that was ok because I got to pick and choose the bands and then they asked me to do some retroactive/commemorative posters for past gigs. I only did a few of those, including PJ Harvey and Beck. Things really started growing after I put them on my website. Visitors were going straight to the poster section so I thought, ‘Hey, I must be on to something.’ I started doing free poster art for bands I liked and asked if I could sell them at the show. Most were totally cool with the idea, and I started getting bigger and bigger clients.

Format: You seem to draw/paint yourself in to your work.
Tara McPherson: Yeah, I get that a lot but it’s not intentional. I look in to the mirror for reference sometimes. I think it happens a lot with artists.

Format: Are there other people in your life that show up in your work?
Tara McPherson: Yeah, sometimes I’ll see that happen so I’ll take it entirely in that direction.

Format: Is the sexuality in your work intentional?
Tara McPherson: Yeah! For sure. When things are seductive its very interesting to me. I like the seductive quality of paint too; line, form, texture…mm.

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Format: How did you start with vinyl toys?
Tara McPherson: I always wanted to make toys of my art. I used to manage a Japanese animation shop in LA. I was always interested in character-oriented art. It was a natural progression for me; I already collected toys. The first stuff I had produced was with the Kid Robot LA Dunny series and things grew from there. It’s really fun, I want to hold characters; I want to play with them.

Format: Do you have any favorites?
Tara McPherson: Yeah, the new Kid Robot set is awesome. The Hellboy figure I did for Darkhorse and Toy2R is really cool too. The company asked Mike Mignolla, Hellboy’s creator, to pick an artist for a variant and he picked me, which was rad.

Format: Being an art teacher at Parsons in New York, and well-established in the art world, do you find you are still learning from your students?
Tara McPherson: Definitely, it’s a great conversation that takes place during critiques in the classroom. I want it to be like that. It’s very important to get feedback. It’s cool to see something coming together for them or seeing them figure out a new technique or character.

[The missing heart] is an icon for everybody. It’s not just the void in the chest, but, a reference to body anomalies, mutations, modifications…things like that..

Format: Emerging artist, Sarah-Antoinette Martin is currently your assistant. How do you go about finding one?
Tara McPherson: I’ve done everything from hiring friends (which doesn’t work out so well) to putting out ads, which is ok. But interviewing people for an assistant position is pretty hard. Things really worked out well with Sarah, her work is awesome; and she used to work at Kid Robot, which is how I know her. She’s exactly the kind of assistant that I want. Someone who is a young artist, who will benefit from the experiences they will have working with me. She does such a great job, but she actually called me up and asked me about the job.

Format: Your work is very surreal and dream-like. Are you an active dreamer?
Tara McPherson: Sometimes I don’t remember my dreams, but I have a book by my bed where I will sometimes write them down. I have definitely done pieces based on them before.

Format: What are your favorite kinds of dreams?
Tara McPherson: I like the ones where I’m flying, or swimming freely through water. They’re liberating and I feel so great.

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Format: Some people call your work low-brow, others, pop-surrealism. How would you define it?
Tara McPherson: I prefer the pop-surrealism term. That applies more, because my work is definitely surreal, it fits in to contemporary pop-culture. After hearing low-brow being used so much, I just don’t know. That makes me think of the So-Cal hot rod scene. My work is nothing like that. It’s definitely weird and surreal. It takes place in a whole different universe.

Format: If you could change the world with your work, what kind of changes would you like to see?
Tara McPherson: Maybe more compassion. More empathy and understanding. More love, man.

Format: Do you have any personal causes?
Tara McPherson: I’ve been meaning to do a piece where I donate the prints to a charity, but I do a bunch of auction events for stuff like Rock For Kids and Breast Cancer research. There’s a thing called New York Arts that helps underprivileged kids, and I donate art to them so that they can make t-shirts and that sort of thing.

Format: What’s coming out next?
Tara McPherson: Well, the Kid Robot set and my second book, Lost Constellations, just launched so I’m touring all summer supporting them. I’m doing 28 cities in total, and I don’t even know how many countries, but I know for sure that I will be appearing in the US, Europe, the UK, Brazil, and elsewhere!

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Jesse Ship
I'm currently Managing Editor of this little web mag here.
Jesse Ship

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2 comments

  1. Your work is refreshing and witty. I do websites and often need design but don’t like the sterile world of designers. Something you might be interested in?

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