Tara Foley might be sweet, but don't mess with her. She studied karate, and some of her newest work explores the world of Victorian ninjas. She recently created a window installation for the SFMOMA Artists Gallery and is currently making a stop-motion film with local musician Mason Lindahl. She's also been commissioned to make a piece for the drummer of the Grammy award-winning band, Phoenix. Last week, we visited Tara's studio and chatted about her penchant for globe-trotting, where she stands on religion, and why you shouldn't be surprised to find her in the thick of a mosh pit.
Tell us about your travels and living all over the world -- how did that influence your artwork?
"It influenced me as a person. Part of the reason why I love San Francisco so much is because, growing up in Manhattan, it was huge and overwhelming and I felt like I needed to get out of there as soon as possible. I think I knew intuitively that Japan would be a place that I would love."
Did you teach in Japan?
"Yes, I taught English and traveled a lot and loved it. I was there for three years and I learned Japanese in two years. I had my own after school program in Tokyo. I lived in India for a year after that, which was the complete polar opposite of Japan. It's just a completely different feeling there and a different way of interacting. Those are two places that I've spent serious amounts of time in. I've been to other places too, like Mongolia."
What did you do there?
"I have an aunt who is half Mongolian. She grew up in a refugee camp in the Ukraine. My aunt is Calmic so she speaks an older version of Mongolian that's still kept alive. She also speaks Russian; people in Mongolia speak both languages. It's really interesting to trace how society is growing through the transitions of language. We were part of this movement to reinvigorate Buddhism in Mongolia. She really believed strongly in bringing Buddhism back to Mongolia as part of the cultural tradition and heritage."
Are you Buddhist now?
"I could say yes because I was partly raised Zen Buddhist by my father. At first he raised me Catholic until I was 12 and then he said, "I'm not actually interested in Catholicism, I just wanted you to experience part of my past." My dad's actually really anti-religion so it's interesting that he chose to raise me Catholic. He asked me to choose and I definitely thought Buddhism sounded like a much better deal."
What are some of your major influences?
"My mom passed away, which is a lot of what my art is about definitely. In 2007, my mom was diagnosed, and she died at the end of the year. I was trying to be as bi-coastal as possible during that time. Since I was on the plane so much and waiting in airports, I just needed to draw with pen and paper, so that's what really got me into the line work. I think that a lot of artists, when they work with lines, they discover hair. A line looks like a strand of hair. Part of my mom's beauty was this thick head of hair. She had it down to her butt for many years. So basically I was drawing her. There's still elements of her hair now, but it's not actually representing hair at this point, it's just shading. It's become more of a devotional expression to her."
Tell us about the drawings you're working on now.
"This is the first time I'm working with watercolor, it's new for me. Part of what's amazing about watercolor is the accidents that happen and the way that things collide, and interact and bleed together. I worked with gouache for many years. At first I loved the matte characteristics, and the blocking out of space, and the really clean lines and shapes that you can make. As a reaction to that, I completely switched to pen, which is almost the opposite of flat surfaces and solid colors."
Where did your obsession with Victorian ninjas come from?
"I did a lot of martial arts as a young lady. I was fascinated with the power, tradition and culture that goes with it. And of course I'm a woman so there are issues of feminism. The idea behind my SFMOMA Artists Gallery show called Warriors of the Shadow Self was these female Victorian ninjas but they're not really fighting each other, they're fighting themselves. It's more about women's internal battles throughout time."
What music could best represent your artwork?
"Is it bad to say one of your favorite bands? I love The Melvins. I've noticed that these churches I'm making are starting to look a little heavy metal. I love sludge metal but I don't know if I necessarily want my art to look like that. I love hardcore music over metal, and these look really heavy metal to me sometimes. I just went to a Cromags show, I really like mosh pits."
See a new installation by Tara at Soap Gallery in June and at SFMOMA Artists Gallery later this summer.