It's been a busy year for Liz McGrath. In addition to working as a successful artist, her band, Miss Derringer, has released an album, toured and spent last weekend working on a video. Despite the buzz that the band has earned this year, this weekend, the focus will be on McGrath's whimsical sculptures when her exhibit “American Animals and the Golden Cave” opens at Billy Shire Fine Arts.
When I stopped by McGrath's downtown studio earlier this week, she was in the midst of finishing a few pieces for the opening. She tells me that she's been averaging three hours of sleep a night and has taken to drinking coffee as she reaches the finish line for this show.
This deer sculpture is one of McGrath's pieces for the show. “With this deer, I started sculpting it and then I started sculpting all this seaweed on it,” she explains. “It took an incredibly long time and then I was like, 'Wait,' so late last night I took it all off, after working on it for two days. Now I think that I should put it back on. I was trying to make it look cool, like it came out of the depths of the ocean somehow.”
McGrath tends to work on multiple sculptures at the same time. “All of these guys on the wall are really close to being done,” she says. “They just need clothing and some painting and then they're done. It's hard. I see stuff and they're almost done, but not quite done.”
McGrath is thinking about taking out a wall in her studio. “Just because of the way my studio is, it gets all messy,” she says. “I'll do all fiberglass and I'm wearing almost like a beekeeper suit, trying not to get anything on me. Then when it's time to do the clothing, I have to pull out all of the fabric and the trims, which makes an incredibly big mess. You don't want to get fiberglass in your fabric. Then the spray painting, that's when I start getting headaches. I have to make sure I have one day to deal with the surprise migraine if it pops up.”
Her studio is stocked with masks and protective eye gear. “Sometimes, I grab a neighbor and am like, 'Dude I need your help. You've got to help me sculpt.'”
Here, McGrath is adding Swarovski crystals to a sculpture. Both crystals and gold have come up frequently in her recent work. She has been heavily influenced by Rococo and Faberge eggs.
McGrath is also well-known for her dioramas, which stem from her work in animation. She has a number of music video credits to her name, including one as an art director for Sepultura's video “Ratamahatta.”
“I had experience making all these little sets for animation and I basically didn't want them to go to waste after a second or two on a film,” she explains. “I wanted to make them more static.”
“There's a lot of trial and error,” says McGrath of her work. “Once I have the idea, I try and research what materials would work best. In the prop industry, it seems like it changes. I'll be gone for a year and then I'll call one of my buddies and they will be like, 'There's this new material and this new material.' Thankfully, I know that a lot of materials are getting eco-friendly and less hazardous. Some of the stuff can be hazardous, so I'm working on edging out the icky stuff and working with stuff that won't kill me.”
McGrath listens to audio books while she's working. “I just got the new Stephen King, Under the Dome and it's thirty-six hours,” she says. “I just got it yesterday and I'm like, 'Perfect, this will help me get through the show.' I'll just listen to them non-stop.”