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Tara Tokarski

Digital Illustration, Multi-media

Tara Tokarski

It was a time when Gigantor Robots and Apollo Moon Rockets were the toys to have. The Beatles sang “Let It Be,” the popular films were Hello Dolly and The Aristocrats. Kids impatiently waited all week long for Sunday night and the Walt Disney Show, while during the holidays, it just wasn’t Christmas until the Grinch Stole it. It was 1970, and Tara Tokarski was growing up in the small town of Harrisburg, Illinois, not too far from the Mississippi River. It was a perfect spot to start a lifelong childhood adventure with the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn very much alive in that neck of the woods.

Tokarski spent her summers running wild in the heavily wooded areas of Illinois, where she would disappear for hours to hunt what she considered big game: gooseberries, sugar snaps, and blackberries planted by her grandmother. Her first memory of art was of her grandfather whom she would watch as he sketched her carousel horses, just like in Mary Poppins. Unfortunately, her grandfather passed away in 1980 when she was 10. But the introduction to the magic had been established. Shortly after his death, her parents introduced her to landscape painting to keep her from attacking the neighbor’s new gooseberry plants. The painting classes, which she had an inclination towards, led to her parents rewarding her skill with an artistic summer treat of more art classes nestled deep in the Garden of the Gods country.

Her family, closet creatives, had their outlets. Her mother and grandmother were skilled in quilt making and needlework, while her father created stained glass wonders. His creations covered windows and lights, turning their home into a visual wonder of vibrant colors. Everything from Tiffany-style light covers to giant ducks in flight, these panels of color inspired a young mind. Her father was also a chemist, and she would watch him mix batches of magic potions for this, that, and the other. One of his favorite games would be named the Element, a game Tokarski was not very fond of but impacted her creative future, for she was never afraid to mix up something new and strange.

This rich background had another element: her family was old-fashioned with a dash of colonial style. At her childhood home, you could find an old red barn, which in its heyday was adorned with Pennsylvania Dutch Hex signs. Touches of folklife can be seen covering her grandmother’s and cousin’s homes, where she spent much of her childhood. Mixed with these decorative touches are early colonial inspirations. Today, she uses these icons from her past to evoke nostalgia for a more innocent time and her feelings of home.

On her mother’s side of the family, there were all sorts of wonders to explore, from a suit of armor and paintings of Spanish bullfighters to German coo coos and crazy sparkle cats ticked away on the walls. You could find all manner of deer skins, Cherokee headdresses, and Native American artifacts in Grandpa’s den. These little wonders laid the foundation for the curiosity of beautiful things.

Tokarski stayed active throughout her young educational years, no longer attacking berry plants but canvases and paper. Along with her painting and sketching, her parents decided she needed to try dance and music. Her bane of existence was in the form of a piano; she was not good. During an art competition, she created the Cellist in a moment of creative innovation. A figure reminiscent of cubism but with waves of music flowing out in a very sharp fashion won her a Golden Scholastic Key award, a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and, most importantly, an end to the dreaded piano lessons.

During Tokarski’s time at SCAD, she experimented with style and concept, working with fashion illustrator Ben Morris and other famous illustrators. Tokarski found inspiration in Al Hirschfield, Pol Turgeon, C. F. Payne, Dr. Seuss, Tim Burton, and the many artists from Disney who made those Sunday nights so magical. Using these masters as springboards for technique and concept, Tokarski formed her stained glass-like style. Along with vibrant color, she also manages to hold on to that feeling of innocence while incorporating those iconic images from her past, like decorative symbols from the Pennsylvania Dutch, but in her way. Art represents our thoughts; for Tokarski’s newest project, she revisits American Folktales. In particular, the ghost tales, which she hopes will reconnect a younger generation with their culture and instill a love of history and mystery.

Just like Dr. Seuss’ statement, “Oh the places we will go,” Tokarski hopes to introduce a new audience to American Folklore, and like Mrs. Van Winkle, she will shrewdly keep you in line. She tends to incorporate fun surprises like her likeness as Mrs. Van Winkle and her husband as Rip. Always one for a bit of fun, her young son, named after Washington Irving’s trickster in Sleepy Hallow one Braum Bones, is featured as a ghost gnome climbing the mountain. A role for which he was not overly thrilled to model. Combining many different materials in each piece, she lets the paint define the painting, most of the time with happy surprises. Always the chemist’s daughter, no two paintings are ever quite the same.

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