I'm no Liza Minnelli:an Interview with Liz McgrathJuxtapoz // Wednesday, 08 Apr 2009
Liz McGrath (Juxtapoz #83) is one of the most badass artists we know. When she’s not tearing it up alongside her husband Morgan Slade, with whom she plays in the band Miss Derringer, this daring artist is busy creating sculptures and paintings infused with emotion and obvious dedication to craft that prove visually arresting to almost any viewer.
Liz has exhibited her work around the globe but Shadowless Summer will her first solo show in New York, which is why Daniel Alonso snagged some talk time with this bold lady to ask her about her craft and why she’s “No Liza Minelli.”
Read the entire interview with Liz McGrath (and peep her very latest works) below:
“I’m No Liza Minnelli” - An Interview with Liz McGrath
By Daniel Alonso
Elizabeth McGrath currently lives and works in Los Angeles with her husband Morgan Slade, with whom she plays in the band Miss Derringer, as well as her two tiny hairless dogs Blue and King Tut. Her artwork can be found in myriad publications, including a published collection of past works entitled "Everything that Creeps." She has exhibited her work around the globe and “Shadowless Summer” is her first solo show in New York.
In the beginning, did you initially find it difficult to enter the art world or did being a self-taught artist and your innocence to the realm of fine art work in your favor?
Actually, it was through music that I really broke into the art world! My band at the time was asked to perform for an art show and when they came by to drop off postcards for the event, I was working on a piece for a friend and they invited me to hang it in the show. The piece sold at the event to then curator (and now gallerist) Greg Escalante, who invited me to participate in his future shows. I actually met Greg through his brother Joe (of California hardcore punk band The Vandals) whom I had met while interviewing for my fanzine at the time, Censor This. Also, I had worked on several music videos that also kind of gave me a lucky break.
I noticed on your website that you taught an art class affiliated with the program Room 13. What does it mean for you to connect with young students and expose them to a type of art they may not have encountered otherwise?
I think it is important for young people to have as much exposure to art as they can. It may be something they fall in love with or connect deeply with but they would never know unless projects like Room 13 exist. It’s especially important, as a lot of schools have closed their art departments because of the financial situation the world is in right now. For me, art is a way of life and something I value very much and I find it sad to think that some people may never know that feeling, only because the resources don't exist for them. That is why I want to help out as much as possible with programs like this.
Along with being a visual artist, you are also the lead singer of the L.A. based band Miss Derringer. What medium did you discover first – art or music?
I was always in bands, so I'm going to go with music but I always had my hand in some sort of creative job. My aunt had a restaurant/bar and I would tie bows on vases for a nickel when I was young. When I was a teenager I airbrushed t-shirts in the mall and did glass engraving and window displays; I always had some kind of odd art job to make ends meet. I put together a punk fanzine with friends and started to take printmaking classes at Pasadena City College in order to make posters and t-shirts for my band and zine. Through the people I met working on Censor This and such, I found work in the art departments for indie films and music videos that led to art directing and styling, particularly with stop motion animation. I feel it all kind of went hand in hand.
Do you consider yourself more of an artist or musician or do you not see a difference between the two worlds?
I am definitely a better artist then musician!! But I love being in a band. Luckily for me my husband Morgan Slade is an amazing songwriter and he writes songs that I fall in love with so they are very easy for me to jump into and to be able to play next to him and travel is like a dream come true . . . but I’m no Liza Minnelli!
I would love to merge more of my art into the music and I’m hoping to have more of a chance for that in the future through videos, stage sets, costumes . . . its just been a time issue.
I have noticed quite a few visual similarities from seeing you onstage as your Miss Derringer character (top hats, spats, etc.) and a lot of your work. Does your persona motivate your art or vice-versa?
Well that's thanks to my talented friends - Adele Mildred, Winter Rosebudd and Aileen Duke. Most of my friends are fashion designers so I’ll have a rough idea for an outfit and they help me put it together. When I’m working on a big art show (my shows in L.A. are usually huge because my gallery out here has a lot of space) I try to get as many of my designer friends on board as I can and have them design clothes for a creature or two. I love working with other people and I feel that having extra ideas only adds to the overall look of things. I actually went to school for fashion but I am a horrible sewer so I never finished. However, I still love to design things.
Miss Derringer is based loosely on a fictitious character who is part femme fatale, part damsel in distress who sometimes lives in the Victorian Wild West, but also could be in a mob movie in the ‘60s . . . I try to think of movements and clothing that would be suiting for her but also that would fit my body type. I don’t think I’ve quite got her nailed yet - she’s probably the toughest art project I have going!
Your work is extremely detailed – from the beautifully morbid small-scale dioramas to the larger (but equally detailed) surreal sculptures. Firstly, where do you find your inspirations and from that initial spark, what is your subsequent creative process like?
I really can get an idea from anywhere. If I’m on a very tight deadline I take up to a week to physically go out and see every thing I possible can - plays, museums, movies, magazines, gardens, bands, readings, libraries, craft stores, second hand stores, wrecking yards, the desert, shopping centers, etc. Then I brainstorm for a title and start researching the Internet for things that might fall in line with the title, and my mind kind of throws up everything I’ve seen the previous week and hopefully with all of that I start to get an idea of what direction I want the work to go in and how to get it there. Next I sketch and once I’ve got it, I narrow down what pieces I want to do and from there I get materials and plan to not see the light of day for a few months!
On average, how long would it then take you to finish creating/sculpting one of your pieces?
A big piece can take up to a month and a small one a day or two; I’m very obsessive about finishing things. Once I start I can’t sleep until I’m finished. These ideas really haunt me at night and if I do get any sleep it’s like Christmas the next morning and I jump out of bed and run to the studio to finish!
A lot of the subjects or “characters” in your work are animals; you tend to steer clear of stereotypically cutesy animals in favor of two-headed weasels and rats tattooed with religious and cholo inspired body art (those are just a few examples). Why such the affinity for the little creatures?
Well, I do have two tiny hairless dogs! I think that animals (large or small) can symbolize a lot of things for people, and by using depictions of animals in my work, especially ones that are not "stereotypical", I can say what I want to more clearly than if I depicted people or abstract shapes. I also really like animals and feel that they are the unwitting victims of a lot of human "progress" which my work deals with.
What is the basis for your first New York solo show “Shadowless Summer”?
My new work deals with issues that I feel are facing all of us these days, whether we choose to ignore them or not. The failed economic system that we have relied on, the silent victims both personal and environmental of our constant striving for social progress and personal wealth, and the increasing isolation we are all finding ourselves in, even as we believe that technology and media are making us more “connected.”
What was the response like to your last solo show, “Tears of the Crocodile”?
It was amazing! Iguapop is in a great location, in the Borne district of Barcelona, near the Picasso museum. There was great publicity for the show and tons of people came out. We had the best time out there and met up with some very talented artists who took us for tapas the Spanish way!
Apart from your new exhibit, do you have any upcoming projects on the horizon or is a vacation overdue?
I have a solo show In L.A. the end of this year at BSFA and Miss Derringer will be touring this summer. I’ve recently fallen in love with ceramics and plan on taking more classes. . .and we do have a vacation planned for Ireland this June!
“Shadowless Summer” opening reception will take place Wednesday April 15th, 7 - 9pm at the Sloan Fine Art Gallery in New York.