MSB brainstorming

24 December 2013

Tara McPherson, High-Low-Brow Wunder-Artist

Originally published November 18, 2006


I recently gave the "opening speech" for a show and book signing by artist, "low-brow" queen, illustrator, comic artist, poster artist, indy rocker and all-around Wunderfrau, Tara Mc Pherson. I'm posting it here because I think her artwork is great, crosses and ignores "important" borders, and because she and her colleagues have successfully and marvelously managed to create their own supportive artworld.

Tara McPherson, who comes from Los Angeles, California, lives in New York City in the US, is a painter, poster artist, comic artist, freelance Illustrator, toy designer, book author and more. The artist also plays bass in a band and loves tattoos. In short, she is a multi-tasking, immensely creative artist straddling the line between popular art and fine art. Or better said, totally ignoring that line, which is admirable.

Her art projects include painted covers for DC/Vertigo Comics (Including Lucifer, Sandman Presents: Thessaly Witch For Hire, and The Witching), a series of ads for Fanta soda (UK), and gig posters for contemporary rock bands such as Air, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, The Shins, The Hives, Motley Crüe, Peaches, the Monks and others.

She also shows her paintings and posters regularly at fine art galleries.

Tara's art has been included in books such as The Art of Modern Rock (Chronicle), SWAG (Abrams), The Art of Electric Frankenstein (Dark Horse), Fleshrot (Frightworld Studios), Sci-Fi Western (Last Gasp), and Panda Meat (Last Gasp).

McPherson has a sticker and t-shirt line by Poster Pop, a cell phone wallpaper licensing deal, vinyl toys, a series of art prints, an adult/childrens book published by Baby Tattoo Books and a poster and art book published by Dark Horse, a comic short story which has just come out, and a 100-page-long, fully painted, graphic novel to come from DC (Which Tara tells me she will begin in one month, after her book-signing tour of Europe is finished.)


Tara has been featured and/or interviewed by Magnet, F Magazine, International Tattoo Art, Skratch, Atomica, Silver Bullet Comics, Modern Fix, Fahrenheit, Willamette Week, LA Weekly, DC Comics, Destroy All Monthly, Burnout, Savage Tattoo and Fused Magazine. Some of her clients include DC/Vertigo Comics, Fanta, Goldenvoice, Knitting Factory, House of Blues, Atomica Magazine, Art Rocker UK, Skratch Magazine, Alchera Essentials, Complete Control NYC Booking, Nike, and Nederlander Concerts.

And finally,, is a beautiful website, where she has an active, well-stocked online store. I know from my experience, blog-sites such as are currently replacing art magazines. Perhaps they can be new forms of distribution as well. McPherson may be leading the way into one of the major new venues of the future

Amazing. When do you sleep, Tara? ("Never," she answered.)

Tara graduated from Art Center in Pasadena, CA in 2001 with a BFA with honors in Illustration and a minor in Fine Art. She interned at Rough Draft Studios, working on Matt Groening's "Futurama" during college. As the artist has said, "aside from when I wanted to be an astrophysicist, I have always wanted to be an artist."

Her influences are varied and as impressive as her own art is. As Tara has stated:
"You know it's been such a wide array of influences that have inspired me. The whole era of the Early Renaissance to Baroque is simply amazing. Some of my favorites are Bronzino and Caravaggio. I also used to manage a Japanese animation/comic/toy store before college, so I couldn't help but to be inspired by some of those artists...Katsuya Terada, Yasushi Nirasawa, Yoshitaka Amano are some of my favorites from Japan. I also love the old woodblock printers from there as Hokusai, Hioroshige and Yoshitoshi. There's also a great gallery scene going on in the US with very cool painters like Joe Sorren, Mark Ryden, and Glenn Barr that are all extremely inspirational to me."

As muses she has named " books--books on anything, I love 'em" as well as music and her incessant writing and doodling in sketchbooks, but as she says, " the big one is life... human interaction and relationships are an endless source of great ideas for me."

Tara has a fervent fan base, as well. Once, when she did a signing at Kid Robot in New York, hundreds of zealous fans went wild, overwhelming employees with demands for the signed, limited-edition prints on exhibition. If collectors' first choice had already been sold, they were happy to snatch another nearby. How often have seen such an event in the academic world of most "fine" art today?


Critics love her work as well, as can be seen by the impressive list of interviews and articles I mentioned. She is particularly loved by artist /critics like me, who also straddle the worlds of vernacular and "fine" art.

FIL-OS-O-PHIZIN' on my part
Let me make a theoretical aside here. As I have written frequently elsewhere, the "both/and," or perhaps "neither/nor" aspect of an approach such as Tara's to fields or hierarchies of art is deeply significant. It has immediate rapport with my own approach, thus I can't resist making a short philosophical harangue.

Literature professor and theorist, Leslie Fiedler, who sadly recently passed away, insisted that "(...) a closing of the gap between elite and mass culture is precisely the function of the novel now (...)". I say that is true of visual art as well. Cross the Border - Close that Gap: Postmodernism as something more than quasi-Mannerist Late Modernism. For me, the key to this lies in the discoveries of comic and other vernacular artists.

The relationship between the "street" art world and that of the "fine" arts has been a one of mutual envy and disdain. Both are important forms of creativity and are of equal importance to many people, including some fine artists including Tara and me. Traditionally, "high" artists have been condescending to comic art, seeing it as at best a kind of accidental success, and at worst as corporate hack-work. Even the adjectives one must use to name the fields reflect this--high/low; fine/applied, etc. Comic fans, similarly, view fine art as too elitist, assuming that the often difficult works of experimental artists are publicity ploys. Impartially judged, both camps are wrong--and yet, unfortunately, sometimes right.

What has been forgotten is the fact that quality takes precedence over the evaluation of whatever socio-political "caste" from which the work originates. And many of us artists stem from and combine several social sub-strata. Particularly, the fine art world discounts the possibility that that technical ability may not only NOT be a sin, but also can be an important conceptual aspect of the work.

The in-betweenness of art such as McPherson's has important social, psychological, even ethical implications. Before I begin to talk about my own art being a typical egotistical artist, let me say this: The point is, let's all forget "high" and "low." Both ends should concentrate on being against mediocrity, cliché, and - most of all at the present - mannerist faddishness, the greater enemies of all art. Please join Tara McPherson and me in ignoring the division.

What about her CONTENT AND STYLE?

Critic Adam Barraclough has written that,
"It is hard to find words to describe how enamored I am of the work of Tara McPherson. It is absolutely dreamy.... There's something so ethereal and yet substantial about her vision, whether when considering her soft-focus paintings or the sharper lines of her poster-prints. That rather dreamlike quality extends even to the characters that populate her work, cartoonish creatures and well-drawn guys and gals situated in bizarre or abstracted surroundings. What ends up grounding the work and giving it impact is the implied narrative context--heartbreak, relationship woes, personal turmoil. As whimsical as her work may first appear, each piece seems to hold its own dark corner or bit of dramatic reality....."
To me, Tara appears to me to be a unique, yet Bruegelesque, painter, creating "illustrational" art about how peculiar and yet enchanting the behaviour of our fellow humans can be. Tara's images unite various opposites in a very human fashion: "girlishness" with aggression, sweetness with horror, Neue Sachlichkeit with fantasy, "ligne claire" with punk, abstraction with cartoonish representation, and others. Smoking teddy bears, decapitated robots, cute vampires, balloon-headed flowers, bloody, missing hearts. Her images, most of all her characters themselves, seem to possess a knowledge of life gained from some serious hard knocks, yet with a refusal to give up their fundamental innocent buoyancy. McPherson creates art that is both pleasurable and disquieting, much like many human relationships.


Do It Yourself
What is so cool about Tara and the whole group she hangs with (including the famous Low-Brow King Robert Williams and his magazine Juxtapoz)?

- They have completely ignored the traditional avenues to success;
- they refuse to "wait" for any curatorially discovery;
- they have sought out places to show, publish, print, distribute and so on outside the "academy;"
- they emphasize technical proficiency, yet in the service of individual goals,
- their personal technical achievement is often influenced by unlikely sources;
- they seek out and encourage --- and print and get work for and show --- one another;
- they have created their own gallerists, networks, in short their own artworld --- one which overlaps with "ours" (Tara and the others are now frequently exhibited in high quality galleries in Chelsea and around the globe) --- yet one not dependant on "ours," one which they steer.

This is one "scene" to where so many of the most promising art students are now gravitating, instead of the "boring" (as they say) standard, pedantic "high" artworld. And one where there are indeed art historians and curators, but ones who serve the art; they do not "justify" it to vassals, flunkies or disbelievers, nor construct pre-fab successes.


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