A bit like the famous painting The Gross Clinic, Liz McGrath’s artwork is layered with complexity and oozes with shades of darkness and paradoxical playfulness. Although McGrath’s work is a bit grotesque, it keeps viewers’ attention with a curious, almost childlike allure and has given her a platform to express her unique and ominous, yet incredibly humanizing views.
Dissecting the human body is less of a mystery now than it was in 1875 when The Gross Clinic was painted, but dissecting art and the motivations behind its creation remain as perplexing as ever. Each artist has their own source of inspiration and their own reasons why they produce art. Somewhere along the line, an artist has to examine themselves and their work to decide what’s next and why.
“I would hope there is a grander scheme. I have to re-think my idea of success before I get back on that roller-coaster,” McGrath says about the sort of lull she has experienced as of late. Recently, McGrath became a mother and instead of always being on tour with her band Miss Derringer and producing a constant abundance of artwork, she has been taking things a bit more slowly and has been exposed to new perspectives.
That isn’t to say she is taking a full sabbatical. Instead, she continues to work constantly and her home and studio are filled with sculptures, scraps of fabric, buttons, butcher knifes and a mixture of materials and mediums galore. She has upcoming shows, recently released a book and seems to have a freewheelin’ mind filled with ideas for what is next.
The dilemma for McGrath at this point however, may be deciding what is next and what makes an artist, or her in this case, a success. “Is success happiness, because success and happiness don’t necessarily go hand in hand.”
A Los Angeles native, McGrath never lacked an affinity for creating art. Whatever materials were available, McGrath would find a way to make something out of seemingly nothing.
“When I was kid I would make cars out of oatmeal boxes-I’d just use whatever materials were around me,” she says. Forming three dimensional pieces from childhood followed McGrath into adulthood and became her livelihood during the 90s.
A considerable influence for McGrath was her upbringing. Her parents were staunch Catholics and their religious views helped to usher her toward the rebellious path. For her 13th birthday, her parents told her they were going to the zoo. Turns out instead of the zoo, her parents took her to the Victory Christian Academy, a Fundamentalist Baptist Correctional Institution for Girls. Needless to say, the thirteen-year-old McGrath, who had dropped acid only that last week and was sporting spiked nail shoes, went berserk.
She spent years in brown, flower prints while some organ-laced song about Jesus buzzed over the PA system in the background. Despite being locked up against her will, McGrath managed to stay optimistic. The now 42-year-old artist seems the type to always take the high road of optimism.
Eventually she left the institution and moved on to the next steps of her life. When she mentions the institution it is totally nonchalant without a shred of disdain toward anyone involved. Again, she is optimistic without being phony, and it’s kind of refreshing.
From Liz to Bloodbath McGrath
After returning home, McGrath took classes at Pasadena Community College. Never an official art student, McGrath found work designing set pieces for music videos and on movie sets. During this time, she started playing with her band, Miss Derringer, alongside her now-husband, Morgan Slade.
It was through her band that her art was discovered. She was asked by the Vandal-brother, Greg Escalante to show her work at a Juxtapoz party. One thing lead to another and McGrath became a part of the emerging and growing low brow art scene in LA.
“A main reason behind the development of low brow art were the artists who were creating the works,” McGrath says.
“We were all artists that were tired of not having a place to show our art, so we just opened our own place. It was kind of like we were outlaws,” she says.
As time passed, lowbrow art started popping up everywhere, around the country and the globe. During this explosion, McGrath was on the crest of the wave and became a success.
“It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters.” – Da Vinci
So going back to success, McGrath has had shows around the world, all which have sold out so far. She is a prominent figure in the community, and has plenty more to offer. If you ask her what’s next though, she can’t really say.
“Should I go big or go smaller? Should I sell out,” she asks. McGrath has been approached about making a line of toys that would be distributed in major stores around the country.
“Do I really want to be a part of that? I’d like things to be more personal,” she says.
Keeping her work personal makes sense because her work is incredibly human at its core. By no means is the subject of her work bourgeois. Instead, she finds characters and inspiration from the streets of downtown.
“I hate the divide between the rich and the poor…all of the creatures are characters or people I’ve probably seen downtown. I want to portray the underdogs and the immigrant workers…They’re part of the community and don’t they get a vote?”
One such character is a fly wearing chef hat. The fly is balancing pretty, delicate cakes. This character along with the majority of McGrath’s characters are the workers around downtown who are rarely noticed. Her work strives to emphasize the social divide and the issues that remain.
“So what is success? Now I wonder, can I raise a responsible human being? To me that is just as important. But then maybe in a few months I’ll have a completely different answer -fuck it, make as much money as you can,” she says, laughing.
Somehow, it’s hard to believe that the artist who avoids talking about themselves will ever be satisfied by selling out though. It seems the future will have to tell what’s next for Bloodbath McGrath.