Sitting down with artist Tara McPherson you’re likely to get a lesson in physics these days: “When you take a super bright object, like a quasar, and place it in front of a massive object, it creates the illusion of four identical objects surrounding the original. That’s called Einstein’s Cross gravitational lens.” To hear this pouring so fluidly out of the mouth of an artist who is known more for gothic characters and insanely beautiful rock show posters than for having a keen acumen for science is surprising.
McPherson, a California native who transplanted to New York three years ago, speaks of this as she sits in her storefront studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, burning the midnight oil in preparation for her show at the Jonathan Levine gallery, which begins February 23.
McPherson’s work is prolific and easily recognizable. Her gothic-vibed characters have been growing a steady following for nearly a decade, and her work is regularly transformed into tattoos, as well as an impressive collection of toy figurines (though it was duly noted that her own tattoos are designed not by herself, but by other artists).
McPherson’s new series of paintings is inspired by the aforementioned Einstein theory, and it will be added to an already-other-worldly collection of work, where characters with names like Orion come from distant planets wearing sexy school uniforms. The five new paintings feature girls with identical facial features (think huge, watery doe eyes and heart-shaped faces, not unlike McPherson’s), but each has a unique anomaly growing from her head. “I’m really interested these days in the body internal manifesting itself as external. … Of showing thoughts becoming physical,” she explains. Out of one head sprouts a branch with leaves resembling pink tongues; another is growing a “skull flower.”For this series, McPherson has abandoned her usual acrylic medium in favor of slower-drying oil paint, which has changed her process completely. “I used to work on only one piece until I was completely finished, but now I find myself working on one layer of one painting, then on to another, and then back again.” Her signature wallpaper backdrops show up in floral and fleur-de-lis, and the series also features some of her other regulars, like Mr. Wiggles, the “emotive defender” balloon head whose roll is to warn people of things to come and speak for those without words. “My work is supremely personal,” says McPherson. “I’m not making any political statements. It’s just how I absorb and understand my life. It’s my process.”