Elizabeth McGrath

Artist + Musician

The good thing about art is you can do it till you’re 100; you can even start when you’re 80.

“Creativity helps us get through life—or sometimes, stay alive,” says LA-based sculptor Elizabeth McGrath, whose neo-Gothic sculptures of creatures from the crypt, demented bats and unearthly flora and fauna earned her the nickname “Bloodbath McGrath” and made her the toast of the pop surrealism movement in Los Angeles. “Creativity is what separates us from animals, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be through drawing or painting or sculpting. It can be the way you lay out a table. There’s art in everything we do. Art is a practice.”

Elizabeth’s story is one of metamorphosis: of hardship into opportunity, of self-expression against the odds, of a woman who took personal trauma and turned it into an art career. She’s had solo shows at galleries around the world, counts a few celebrities as collectors and has been interviewed in dozens of art magazines. Oh, and she’s a singer, whose band, Miss Derringer, toured America with 70s punk legends, Blondie. She credits her success lately to two things: community and her aunt, who gave her the best piece of advice ever, “Just f***ing do it.”

That was back in fourth grade when her tough-talking aunt put her in charge of creating the decor for her huge Irish restaurant. Elizabeth decorated vases, dressed up the taxidermy creatures and built a leprechaun graveyard. But, things weren’t going well at school. By age 12, she’d been kicked out of three for shaving her head and wearing studded clothing to class. Worried, her parents sent her to a Fundamental Baptist girls’ home—which was later shut down by authorities for excessive practices, including locking girls in a confined space called “The Get Right with God Room”. 

“I spent a lot of time in solitary, and I escaped through my imagination,” says Elizabeth. “I think that’s why I became more fascinated in 3D art, because I would imagine these very real worlds.” When she left the girls’ home, she wanted to recreate the worlds she had envisioned—and it took a few years before she figured out how. 

Elizabeth studied fashion at Pasadena City College, but discovered sewing was not her strong suit. She continued to pursue other creative interests, including making flyer art for her punk band and starting a ’zine called Censor This, which caught the eye of a music video director who later became her mentor.

“It was so inspiring,” she says. “They were making all of these little miniature environments for little puppets. I learned a whole new language of expression.” Her final project there was the “Guadalajara” music video for seminal Brazilian metal band, Sepulture.

Around that time, her ’zine ran a feature on Joe Escalante from the punk band, The Vandals. His brother, Greg Escalante, founded Juxtapoz magazine. Greg saw Elizabeth’s flyer artwork and invited her to make a piece for an upcoming art show. “I was like, ‘Oh my God. Of course.’” Her charmingly macabre 3D pieces were a hit, and Elizabeth found herself in demand as a fine artist and featured in Juxtapoz.

Elizabeth knows all too well the roller coaster of feast and famine a creative life can bring. Nonetheless, she encourages anyone who is so inclined to give it a shot. “The good thing about art is you can do it till you’re 100; you can even start when you’re 80.” The first step, she says, is to pay attention to your ideas. Ideas are precious, she says, even when we don’t know exactly what to do with them. “When you get an idea, rather than dismiss it, write it down. And then try to figure out a step towards making that happen. And then, make it happen. Once you do that a couple times, you’re going to be inspired to do it over and again.”




Stories & Surroundings

Photography by Curtis Buchanan Written by Caroline Ryder