Sunday, February 2, 2014

Eccentricities of the dark and unique | An interview with artist Elizabeth McGrath

Photo © Adam Wallacavage.

 Who is Liz McGrath? The artist? The sculptor? The wife? the Mother?

This is a question I've been asking myself a lot lately! I think it's easy to forget who you are right after you have a baby- Especially if you are in the position of "the Stay at home mom". I don't think people realize how much work it really is, I know I didn't until I was put into this position. Being an older mom who had a decent self employment career for over a decade makes the loss of it challenge my identity and brings new insecurities. Not having the extra income, worrying about being able to bring back my career in the future, and being a dependant when for so long I was self sufficient.

Trying to find a balance has been most difficult for me as before I had my daughter my whole life was dedicated to making art. But I'm realizing that if I don't have some kind of artistic outlet then I literally go crazy! Once I start on a sculpture or art piece though, it takes over my mind!! its hard for me to focus on anything else, in the past I'd work on something without even realizing that the days have gone by. But now even with the best laid babysitting plans your days are not really your own anymore. It makes me feel guilty that during the time I spend with my daughter I can't stop thinking of whatever my current art piece is, and try as I might, I haven't been able to set aside dedicated art time, husband time, and child time without short changing one of them!

 So who I am today, I'm still trying to figure it out! But in the end if I cant have it all, I am hoping that I will be a good mother most of all. And I have to say this is the biggest challenge. I think the media has depicted motherhood a certain way and if you don't live up to their standards then you are a bad mother. Just like those super skinny photo-shopped models that are on every glossy magazine cover that can make you self doubt and strive even harder for unattainable perfection. I was lurking on some mom chat groups for guidance in the beginning and found it to be so judgemental, these moms lashed out at anyone who made a different choice then theirs, it was really depressing!

Your work has a dark yet beautiful eccentricity about it. Where do you find your inspiration for your work and are their central themes you like to visit and re-visit? 

Thanks!! I think I am inspired subconsciously by everything around me, I try to get out and see things and hope something will stick later. I also really enjoy audio books and find a lot of inspiring worlds within them. And libraries, I especially like the main Los Angeles libraries as it has so many interesting art books that are out of print and not on the Internet. I always find something that sparks my interest there.

 A lot of your work features the strange and the grotesque. The unusual beauties of the real and the imagined world. What is it about creating creatures and unique oddities that you love so much? 

When I first started sculpting and painting I wanted everything to look realistic. I thought that was the ultimate achievement, but after going down that path I realized that it didn't really fulfill my vision, it was tedious and unfufiling, especially once computers came to be recognized as a viable art form and I saw so many wonderful digital art works that didn't limit the technical drawing skills of the artist, if that was an issue, but let them just get to their ultimate ideas. So I realized that it was more about finding your style and nurturing your imagination and at that point I stopped trying to make things look like a photo and just started making whatever came to mind.

Can you briefly explain the process you undertake from idea to finished piece?

If its for a show where I have to do multiple works I first come up with the concept and ideas behind the concept, and also a title and then a color theme and start to flesh out the pieces that will go into the show. For an individual piece I sometimes do a rough sketch or if I already have it in my head I'll build or find an armature, if I build it I use wire cotton batting and duct tape, then I put a coat of magic sculpt over it, its an epoxy resin, then I paint and embellish it and use a number of different mediums to finish it with depending on the overall goal. 

Are there any artists you personally admire and would love to someday work/collaborate with? 

There are so many, I'll name the ones I know to start because not only are they wonderful artist but wonderful people too. ! I love (in no particular order) Camille Rose Garcia, Marion Peck, Mark Ryden, Robert Williams, Travis Louie, Brian Poor, Aaron Smith, Junku Mizuno, Adam Wallacavich, Morgan Slade, Adele Pederson, Gary Baseman, Femke Hiemstra (I don't know her but do admire her work!) Gris Grimley , Natalia Fabia, Miles Gavin, up and comers Jessicka Adams, and Lindsey Way. 

 This is a tough question because I always end up leaving people out by accident! I have been fortunate enough to do a few collaborations with Brian Poor, and if we get it together for the next black moon show then Camille, Marion, Jesicka and my self will come up with some kind of collaborative piece. (we didn't get it together in time for the last show!) I've been talking with Adam forever about doing a collaboration so hopefully we will do that this year, and i LOVE Junku's work and would love to do soemhting with her one day too, basically I'd love to do a collaboration with any of the above mentioned! 

 Your work is kind of like the creepy underworld of a fairytale. A complete world of its own built from your imagination. Where do you draw your inspiration from? And after spending so long on each creature or piece is it hard then to detach yourself from that character? 

Fairy tales definitely play a big part in my imagination, and audio books, I love Gothic romances, fairy tales, lives of the saints, sci fi, horror, young adult, folk lore, everyday lives of people all over the world, the classics i'll listen to anything if it has a good narrator and is half way decent! Those all shape the characters I create, once I have made them especially if I am on a tight deadline and have been up for days straight trying to finish in time I never want to see them again! I am a perfectionist and they never seem to look completely finished to me. A big problem is that I over make them sometimes. In my head is more  and more and that doesn't always work. So I think I start to detach from them when they are in the last stages, I start to think of all the ways I could have done better and try to remember that for the next piece. It's only after a few months or years have gone by that I can really look at them objectively and say wow, that came out better the I thought! By then I've forgotten what ideas of perfection I had for them anyways. 

 Is there any subject matter you have yet to explore that your dying to to delve into? 

I started out with oil paintings and would like to start doing them again, I'm just so out of practice! 

Is there any one piece of your work that you are most fond of or proud of? 

I think I am more attached to the bigger ones and the ones that took a long time, its weird I can remember what was going on in my life at the time I was making them when I see them, they are like memory time capsules . I think the crystal animals were really fun for me because I was able to create the base of them and then had some talented people (Miles Gavin for one) help put the crystals on so I didn't have the time to "detach" from them and as a result those are the only ones I wish id kept! But I was fond of the under the owl light, and incurable disorder pieces as well as the large cut in half sculptures with cities inside them and the recent women's heads I've been working on. 

 Your husband Morgan is also an artist. What's it like living in a creative melting pot and do you think its something that your daughter will become involved in?

Currently he has taken on a full time "corporate" job that has kind of put a damper on our creative dream future! its been a struggle to figure out what path to take, on the one hand I envision this creative company that we work on together and are able to employ or work with other artist, as we had been doing before. Since I know having your own company takes up so much of your time, if you can find someone you are partnered with to work together its a huge bonus. But on the other hand there's the worry of having enough money at the end of the day to pay for all the needs of a family, and trying to figure out what kind of family you want to be. So currently I'm working on a revision of my vision.

Then theres all the forgotten art projects I had visualized myself and daughter doing, all the kid friendly art tables set up for her and her friends to work on all day long that I just cant seem to manage to make real, let alone make any mom friends with their kids to invite over! So far if I can take a shower, answer a few emails, get dinner on the table, do some laundry, pick up the loft, and take her to the park I count that as a successful day! so.... the creative melting pot has been yet to be realized in our current family situation!!

 I have followed your artistic career for many years. There is a very personal aspect to your work that makes your work and its aesthetic immediately recognisable. How difficult has it been to discover what works and what doesn't?

It's been a lot of hit or miss, I started with paintings and got little response from them and then once i started making the 3-dimensional pieces things started to take off, so its a mix of what does well in shows and such and trying to come up with new ideas so I'm constantly learning new things, which to me is more important.

You have worked across many different mediums from sculpture to oil paint to animation. Do you have a favourite medium or is it the culmination of many that is most exciting? 

I like working with all of them! i also would like to learn so many new ways to deliver the final message!

You've released two books of your work now, the most recent in August this year. What does 2014 hold for Liz Mcgrath? 

I think 2014 is trying to figure out a schedule that works for everyone in my family, I really want to move out of LA before my daughter starts school. This has been a lifetime dream of mine, to live in a different country for a few years, but I think with a kid and two dogs and a limited budget this goal will be on hold for the next 20 years, after she moves out of the house! 

So for now I would like to move to a sleepy beach town somewhere in America, not in CA, for a few years, and who knows maybe settle down there! I love LA but I have been here my whole life and lately I've been dreaming of nights not filled with sirens and screaming people and streets not filled with trash and human waste. Don't get me wrong, these were all very inspiring to me in my 20's, and the cheap rent enabled me to have the freedom to exist on my art sales. But recently I have out grown these things, and rents have quadrupled here in LA in the last few years so for now I see a better place, one with a nice breeze and sandy beaches in a remote location that's not too cold and not overpriced!