I first recognized Tara McPherson a few years ago sitting at her booth at Comic Con — it was insane. The line to meet her and have art signed wrapped around 2 other booths and basically shamed the couple other artists with signings at the time. I realized then that McPherson has the sort of rabid loyalist following that most artists pine for. After getting her start illustrating rock posters for Goldenvoice — lending her talents to such bands as Faith No More, Kings of Leon, Beck, Rilo Kiley, Modest Mouse, The Melvins and Bright Eyes — Tara has moved onto many other mediums. Oil painting, illustration and toy making are all fields that have been tackled successfully by McPherson, while working with such varied companies as Kidrobot, Dark Horse Comics, Toy2R, DC Vertigo, Wyden+Kennedy and Spin Magazine. Frankly, she’s an all around pop-cult goddess. Tara now exhibits her paintings and serigraphs in fine art galleries all over the world, and just wrapped up a solo show at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York on November 20th. Today her art will be part of Penguin Books-commissioned ‘Never Judge…?’ group exhibition opening at the Stolen Space Gallery in London, a show honoring the disappearing art of the book cover. We were glad to recently spend a couple minutes with Tara, and this is what she had to say about her start, her fans and the joys of seeing her art manifested into toys…
So do fables influence your art?
Yea, yea, for sure. I’m actually working on my solo show right now that is actually based on myths and legends that I’ve researched and discovered from countries around the world that I’ve traveled to…and I’m just exploring those and putting a modern twist on them and reinventing them. And yea I just think you get the most insane and inspiring stories from mythology because it’s so out there, you know? It’s so wild.
Are classic Japanese paintings also an influence?
Not classic Japanese paintings. But I really love Japanese printmaking; all the woodblocks I really love. I really love renaissance paintings. So its kinda like it works opposite with that, because the paintings are very rendered. The Japanese prints are really nice and flat, and graphic, bold…it’s the combinations of those two elements of my work that kind of help each other and balance each other out.
Are you rejecting and embracing consumerist culture?
I’m not making any comments about that in my artwork.
Because you make toys too — so it’s not anything you’re really talking about at all?
Well with creating art in general, for someone who likes to collect… so I guess that fits in with consumerism. But I’m not making any social commentary in my art work. I don’t have a political agenda really in my work. I like stuff, I like collecting things; I like making things people can collect.
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“It’s pretty amazing that people care about my work and want to join in and meet me — and I hope I make it an awesome experience, because I know it sucks to wait in a line!”
McPherson’s entry into the ‘Never Judge…?’ group exhibition in London for which she re-imagined the cover for Bridget Jones’s Diary. The cover was part of Penguin’s Tattoo series inspired by traditional tattoo art…
Is this why you decided to go into toys?
I always liked and collected toys, and character-based art has always interested me. And I used to run this Japanese toy store before I went to college, and it really got me thoroughly interested. Made me want to make those. I collected them, I had them all over my house. It’s only natural that I’d wanna turn my characters into something I’d want to collect. And hopefully other people would want to.
It must be a cool experience to see your characters go from 2 dimensional to 3 dimensional like that.
Oh yea definitely. I mean some things, like a character I’ve been drawing for a very long time, then to actually get to hold it… I mean when the first one came out, it just blew me away! It was so fantastic.
You’re kind of known for having some really long lines at your signings. Why do you think that is? Have you ever wondered about your distinct appeal as an illustrator and a toy maker?
You know I feel really very lucky (laughs), and so happy that people like my work, to put it simply. And that a lot of people can relate to it, and that it’s something that they want to collect. I mean it’s pretty fantastic and amazing that people care about it, and want to join in and want to meet me, and I hope I make it an awesome experience, because I know it sucks to wait in a line! (laughs) But I’m always… every single time, I feel so lucky. I think it’s so wonderful that people come, you know? And show their love and support.
Ever had any memorable fans approach you at all?
Oh yea a huge variety. Many types of people come to the events, like I have this little character named George whose this little vampire boy, and this one kid… I was in LA and Miami on a Kidrobot tour, for my mini-figure set… and there was this kid that looked just like him (laughs) and I had George on the bottom of the box, and I took a photo of them right next to each other. It’s so adorable. Stuff like that. Makes me so happy.
I can’t imagine having someone dress up as one of your characters. It must be so awesome.