Collected worldwide, McGrath’s works have been included in numerous solo and group shows, as well as publications. Having trailblazed an aesthetic that focuses on blissfully macabre, creepy, and enchanting worlds, she has inspired a variety of artists actively exhibiting today. Her bizarre, painted panels – hollowed from within to expose 3D sideshows of ghastly, forlorn looking creatures – were considered quite the mixed-media rarity back in the late 90’s.
“The real world evaporates when you’re in your imaginary world,” says McGrath of her tendency to blur boundaries between fantasy and reality.
And while her techniques have clearly required painstaking commitment and discipline, McGrath’s use of various materials such as clays, paints, epoxy resins, upholstery fabrics, foam wood, and wire, can all be found within her sardonic, anthropomorphized creatures and the worlds they inhabit. Throughout her career within Low-Brow culture, the artist has acquired a wealth of knowledge pertaining to the industry of art, having been around long enough to note various differences between decades of yore, and how things are currently run.
When asked whether it was challenging during her most productive years, to keep up with the flurry of activity, or, on the contrary, whether it helped fuel her creative drive, McGrath explained, “It was a little bit of both. Being constantly asked to be involved in group shows and collaborations and things like that, which I never would have chosen to do on my own, you do get this feeling of being left out if you don’t do every single thing that comes your way.
“A lot of times it’s a favor for a friend, like [being) in a group show [when] they want a bigger name artist to help sell the lesser-known stuff. It can be a very slippery slope, because once you go down that road, the next thing you know your schedule’s booked for five years, and it’s not necessarily on work you’d want to be focusing on. So, it’s easy to lose energy that way.”
On the other hand, such projects can also lead to unexpected discoveries that benefit an artist’s development, while combining varying visions may force one to stretch beyond bias and comfort zones. The result may lead to new techniques, and concepts which the artist might never have considered on their own, and, in best cases, a trademark expression may result.
“It’s infectious when someone else is really excited about something,” notes McGrath. “Sometimes it fuels these weird collaborations that you probably wouldn’t have done, and isn’t [in]your wheelhouse, but you do them anywayand they come out awesome; and this leads to this new thing that you do.”
In many cases, McGrath pointed out, the decision can be narrowed to two scenarios: whether the artist strives for commercial success, or purely personal forms of expression. The former requires the fast production of many salable, small items, and the latter means devoting longer periods of time on individual projects. For McGrath, it was a combination of the two – usually satisfying, but occasionally created conflicting headspaces.
“For me, when I’m really into working on something, I never want to be pulled away from it. I just want to see it until it’s finished. And I work better if I’ve got a body of work going, because I get distracted very easily. I can hyperfocus onone thing, but only for so long, and then I have to take a break and do the next thing,” she explained.
Mixed-media projects lend themselves well to her process, as she enjoys fluttering from one stage to the next, such as the painted or sculpted elements. “I sink really into this world, and every element has its own deadline in my mind. Every single detail of the project is floating through my mind at once, so when it’s like, “Hey, can you make this toy for this hundred-person art show,” or something like that, it will take away from what I’m doing, and it just becomes a mess.
“But on the other hand,” adds McGrath, “once I finish a show I tend to [wonder], “What’s next?’” It’s like a flatline and I get depressed. So, in that case, it’s kind of nice to have something else to grab onto. That’s when those little shows become fun. It’s when it’s in the middle of larger projects that it’s no longer fun.”
McGrath belives she began her career at an opportune time, when galleries participated in the artist’s career on a more personal level. Some gallerists, particularly at the dawn of what was then known as the Low-Brow movement in the late 1970s, were open to the possibilities of what the scene could become, and encouraged experimentation. Others had more specific visions in mind, and, through recognizing an artist’s strength, helped guide them towards successful conclusions. Either way, it seems that galleries were more engaged in shaping the artist in ways not so common in today’s digital age.
Recalled McGrath: “Some galleries said, “Do whatever you want, I support you.” This was at a time when galleries did support you. They’re investing thousands on promotion, etc. This was when you met someone with a handshake – they’re taking you out to dinner, they’re introducing you to people, it’s like a celebration.”
As for deadlines, McGrath points out that some galleries aren’t flexible enough, expecting too much in too little time. “For some artists, that kind of pressure is good, but for others it isn’t. I put that kind of pressure on myself already.”
And while she feels it’s important for the artist to be acknowledged in more personal ways, helping boost the creative fervor that goes into the work, McGrath rued the idea that today the scene is, for the most part, digitally-driven. “In the past it was more of a family thing, and now it’s more like, “Let’s try to find the artists that have the most Instagram followers so that we can all get each other’s followers.” It’s like this Jacob’s Ladder,” she added.
During the last decade, McGrath has undergone a kind of gestation periodthat has allowed her to reflect on her lengthy career, and where she might possibly want to take her creative vision next. It’s been a time of delicately tuning in to the whispers of personal needs, of regenerating fuel, and of nourishing relationships with family. One thing we can surmise, is that there is a vast forest of extraordinary creatures that live inside the head and heart of McGrath. Whether she will continue to manifest it for her own private amusement, or for the satisfaction of her worldwide fans, is a decision only she can make, and that time will tell.
Cover image of the artist by Morgan Slade; all other images courtesy of the artist. Visit the artist at her website, on Instagram and on Facebook.