It comes as no surprise that such charmingly unusual art would come from an artist who bears those same traits. Elizabeth McGrath is a Los Angeles-based artist who has shown work with the likes of Banksy, Robert Williams, Mark Ryden and SHAG, to name a few. McGrath’s unconventional childhood took her down a path that eventually led to the punk scene and from there; she began her career as an artist. When walking into McGrath’s studio it is hard not to notice all the aberrant relics strewn about. It is filled to the brim with exquisite and uncommon books of all sorts, cute/creepy little toys still in their plastic packaging, gems, clay, feathers, geodes, half-finished drawings and sculptures of equally half-finished creatures and faces. She talks a mile a minute but in the most endearing way. You don’t want to miss anything she’s saying for it’s all relevant and is invariably interesting. With as much success and popularity McGrath has earned, you can tell that is of little interest to her. For someone so unusual, she’s quite grounded with a humble attitude and a kind spirit. As so many things do, it all began with the discovery of punk music. McGrath sat down with CULTURE to answer a few questions ranging from what she’s been up to lately all the way to how she got her start in the art world.
How did punk music and that whole scene influence you and your art?
I was drawn in by the aesthetics. I remember seeing the Sex Pistols on the news, and after that I sought out anything having to do with punk rock. I grew up in a time when the internet was just being invented, and there were only a handful of TV and radio stations so art for me was found in local record and comic book shops through flyers, zines and the like. I liked the punk record covers the best. They were the ones that had drawings and stuff on them while all the metal and new wave bands had photos—except Guns N’ Roses did have that one Robert Williams cover.
How do you think your music and art correlate?
I was in a punk band called Tongue and made the flyers and T-shirts and such. I started a fanzine with a number of students from PCC and a man named Ed Dawson called Censor This—the motto was that we censored nothing and the logo was a walking middle finger hand and the finger was in the shape of a penis to symbolize that it was a place where anyone who wanted to, could share whatever they wanted to without judgment because it was a no judgment zone. We felt that symbol best described this. We mostly featured comics and art and lots of punk band interviews. Through the fanzine and punk band we ended up playing a Juxtapoz party and I was invited to hang some of my flyers in the art show that coincided with it. Greg Escalante’s (creator of Juxtapoz Magazine) brother, Joe Escalante, was in The Vandals who we had just recently interviewed for the fanzine . . . and they were also on the bill. Greg, who was doing a lot of pop-up shows at the time, bought a piece of art I’d made and asked me to be in other shows he was putting on. That’s sort of how I got my start.
What do you enjoy creating the most? What brings you the most joy and satisfaction?
I love getting lost in a place while listening to audio books.
Who do you make art for?
Whoever likes it!
Paint a picture of a normal day in the life of Liz McGrath.
Right now it’s like a love/hate thing. I’m preparing for a show and only have a few months left to finish everything. So, I get into my studio on a Monday or Tuesday and I put on an audio book and I sculpt until I can’t see . . . usually about 18 hours. Then I crawl into a hidden loft bed cave above some shelves of materials and crash for five to six hours if I’m lucky and repeat this until the weekend. I’ll crack open a few cans of beans or whatever canned food I’ve stocked up on and do this until a Saturday. Then I go to my house, turn off my phone and hang out with my daughter until Monday. Then I go back to my studio and repeat this process. It’s not ideal but until I’m done with this show, this is what I have to do to make it work. My daughter and husband have been really patient with me!
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I have a bunch of merchandise stuff in the works after this show I’m working on that’s for Corey Helford Gallery. It’s on November 5. I’m in Gallery 3 and my friend Natalia Fabia is in Gallery 1.
How do you feel about the legalization of cannabis in our country?
I’m all for it being legal. Especially since it’s so natural. I can grow it in my own backyard. It’s no one’s business what I grow in my backyard or what I put into my body. If people can inject botulism and plastic bags into their body then why can’t I legally smoke what I want!?