HF Exclusive:”Shadowless Summer” A Behind the Scenes look & Interview with Liz McGrath

by Nathan SpoorPosted on

Los Angeles born self-taught artist Liz McGrath (HF v.9) has been plundering the darker corners of the world from which to elicit her cavalcade of creatures; in her new works, she exposes the shadow-dwellers to the full effects of unrelenting sunshine. Inspired, perhaps, by the pervasive sense of exposure running rampant in the zeitgeist, McGrath apologetically illuminates that which our frail psyches prefer to keep in the dark, taking a much-needed closer look at our blind spots.

McGrath’s exhibition’s showpiece, “Boxer”

Hello Liz, and thank you for taking time out of preparing for your upcoming show to speak with us!So to begin, let’s talk about what this new body of work is dealing with please. Where did the impetus for “Shadowless Summer” begin and what can we expect to see?

Heading up the exhibit is “Boxer”, a sad-eyed pony in the vein of Animal Farm’s betrayed proletariat hero. Neatly bisected and perched atop two pedestals where snakes coil with indifferent menace, Boxer sports an impressive collection of Russian gang tattoos alongside the maxim fortes fortuna iuvat (fortune favors the bold). His exterior speaks to the hubris of a collapsed social and economic structure. Taking a closer look at his inside, however, tells a darker tale- a woe-begotten lighthouse facing an unheeded warning: Be careful what you wish for. In the face of our own economic collapse, Boxer’s plight is all too relatable.

Two Headed Cat in all its fancy best.

A series of mounted animal heads makes up the series “We Are All Ships in the Night”; lonely figures with eerie apparitions reminiscent of ghost ships making up the tattered sails atop their antlers, unseeing eyes disconsolately speaking to their irreversible isolation.

The early early days of Black Deers.

At what point did you realize that you had the ability to transform from a 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional artist?

I don’t know if i ever was a 2D artist… At 5 my aunt recruited me to help her with her restaurants displays – like tying bows on vases, fluffing up flowers, etc. Later she would have me paint signs, make a leprechauns graveyard, design t-shirts and menus. So I don’t think I ever really broke it down into 2D / 3D. Later I airbrushed t-shirts in the mall and also did glass engraving, window displays, and I worked art department on music videos and indie films. I also painted signs for stores and such. They were all jobs that demanded a little bit from both worlds.

A chorus of the Two Headed Cat, Two-Headed Weasel and Rabbit Tooth 1&2.

Tell us a little about what your days are like. I mean, are you still involved in your bands, freelance work, fashion? Is your time divided up into doing more of one thing than another?

It’s pretty much different every day, but usually art takes up more of my time. If I’m working on an art show it’s all art with an occasional miss d. show in between. But when that’s done, it’s all music. We just signed up with Triple X Records/Nickel and Dime, so after this show (actually the day after my show with Alix) we’re flying out to Vegas to play at the Double Down on the 17th. And then we’re going to be doing some touring.

I’m not really doing to much fashion stuff, the most recent thing was a t-shirt design for my friend Jannie’s salon – HairroinTomorrow were going to Magic Mountain because my dad has free tickets with all you can eat buffet passes. It will be horrible waiting in those lines for some shitty food, but they are so excited about it – they will drive for hours for free food!

Boxer receives a constrictor-like appendage underfoot.

Do you spend a lot of time sketching or prepping ideas to produce? Is there much investigation or research involved?

I do a lot of research on the Internet to try to find a concept for the whole show. And then I find a tittle to support the concept. I’m a horrible writer! But I’ll throw together a loose thesis and pass it to my very talented writer friend Ashleigh Jackson and she molds it in to something more cohesive. After that I go on image searches; to the library, parks, book stores, museums, magazine stands- Internet I spend about a week or so on research, then I try to come up with a loose color theme. At this point I come up with loose sketches and try to narrow down which ideas I like (and realistically what I have time for) and what will fit into the theme.

Photo of the artist without the artist… yet by the artist.

Have you had a life moment that really put things into perspective for you? And what did you take away from that experience?

Actually very recently I have!! And I think Alix Sloan is a little to blame for it! She has been so awesome to work with, I was like “What do you want” and she said “10 good pieces.” Usually its like 50! I was working on a few large pieces and she said, “I want those.” I thought she was crazy because they’re huge. She was like “Bring it. I just want great work in the space.” There wasn’t a lot of pressure to make what was the last hot item that sold well. Having a lot of time to work on the pieces and such was really refreshing. I think sometimes artists get pushed so much they end up just parodying the work that made them successful.

Contouring the beginning stages of the new work.

I was talking to my artist neighbor and he advised me that this is the time to make what you want: the economy is shitty, no one will fault you if it doesn’t sell = this is the perfect time to experiment. What have you got to loose? I’m definitely going to make some outrageous things this year and throw all the conformity out the window. I think this is going to be a really exciting time for art everywhere!

Cutaway view of Boxer.

How do you view the role of art school vs. self taught in the world stage of the arts and artists that each environment produces?

I think art school will definitely give you an advantage. I think it will definitely teach you skills that would be hard to pick up on your own. Working with other artists around you can be very inspiring, especially in a semi-competitive environment. It pushes you to grow. Also depending on the school you go to you have the opportunity to do studio visits with mainstream art galleries right out of college. That is very hard for a self taught artist to do, next to impossible. So if you are able to go to art school, why not? I mean, if you’re an artist you do it for life – what’s 4 years out of 60? I plan to go at some point in my life, hopefully in the next 10 years or so. There’s also things that you can’t learn in school. I learned a lot from all the odd art jobs I’ve done. If you have a chance to work at a studio or intern or apprentice go for it.

I’m sure each environment produces a certain “type” of artist but I think after years of hanging in there through the good and bad times they both come out pretty similar.

Oooooh drippy Black Deers patiently waiting.

You’ve shown and traveled quite a bit I’d gather. So is there anywhere you’d like to visit for a recharge or to explore new ideas for future work?

I went to Singapore when I was about 12. That’s where my mother is from and i have family there still. At the time I felt as if I had been kidnapped. I didn’t know we were going there, and my mom was bent on enrolling me in the convent. She had spent some time in her early 20’s in a convent in England so for whatever reason she wanted this life for me. I was really into punk rock at the time, which bothered my parents. They thought I should be a nun, I am not kidding!!

Other than that, the trip was such a culture shock! The weather, the food… I remember vising the tiger balm gardens which features underground tunnels with miniatures of the 13 Gates of Hell It has rats and rabbits going into full scale wars, dragons you could climb on. There’s all this while turban-headed men threw live cobras on you for photos. I would love to go back there again! I would love to travel from there up to China and maybe trace back some ancestral roots. We are going to Ireland in June which is very exciting for me. I really want to explore old Irish mythologies, see the giants causeway and where the wee people live.

The rabbits being very good and very patient on photo day.

Two Headed Cat’s back work.

And a favorite question of mine: If you had the ability to create a full scale masterpiece, whatever the vision of that is and no matter the cost or location – what might that be, and where? Do tell us all about it.

Well, I think that there are a lot of very talented artists all around the world. I would love to have representatives from each country come together and make a theme park like Disneyland – like a giant It’s A Small World. Like Tiger Balm Gardens. I would love to have an underground pirate dragon type ship that could also go underwater where there was amazing Eco friendly displays of marine wildlife, strange outer space 2001 Pierre and Gilles like dreams capes with a section that would sell local crafts. And the gains from that section would directly go back into the pockets of the craftsman and gains form the park in general to go into programs that helped support the impoverished from every nation to be able to have access to art programs. They could set up ways that they can make a living from the crafts/arts that they produce. I know there are many great programs like that, but it would be great to have one more in a weird themepark!

Two Headed Cat in all its fancy best.

Midway through the two headed ones, studio desk.

And as we depart our time together, do you have any sage advice or collected wisdom to share with the hopeful youth of today’s challenging (and talented) art frontier?

I guess just keep going, keep expanding your ideas. Think about what you are bringing into the world and why. There’s no race or time limit. You have the rest of your life to make art. Sorry… I know this sounds cheesy deep coming from a person who makes tattooed ceramic pig heads!

Hind quarters of the Boxer work

Opening on April 15th, Liz McGrath’s show may be the perfect foil for the ritualized misery of Tax Day. Honest expressions laden with whimsy, these pieces capture the essence of the old notion, the world’s going to hell in a hand-basket, you might as well have a good time on the way down.

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