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Interview – Grande Dame

London’s illustrations community is a tight-knit web of talented creatives who lead the way in the global illustrator sphere (if indeed there is such a thing). But when we encountered the work of Tiff McGinnis (AKA Grande Dame), we were struck by the way she covers so many disciplines from an illustration/music base, and makes such striking use of colour in her work. When we say struck, we actually mean ‘fell in love with’: McGinnis’ illustration is hypnotic and enigmatic and we could just stare at it all day. We caught up with her to find out more. 

Planet Notion: Describe your work in 5 words. 

Grande Dame: Ultra-bright, Psychedelic, hyper-coloured, celebratory, fun.

PN: If you had to choose your favourite creative field from your three specialities (audio, video or art), which one are you drawn to and why?

GD: I couldn’t choose a favourite. They all go hand-in-hand. First I write a song, then I animate a video. I suffer from OCD and tend to over detail my videos; the objects are merely seen for seconds, so I turn them into prints, plates, lights and more to give them longevity.

PN: What’s the best thing about your work in your opinion? 

GD: I am self taught: that’s the best thing about me! Visually, probably my colours are what draw people in, colour is therapeutic and can change your mood and transport you somewhere else.

PN: What inspired the name ‘Grande Dame’?

GD: My Last moniker was Crazy Girl , but I outgrew it and needed something more befitting. Before my style was rough and ready, now it’s clean and more fine tuned. Same with the music, it was lo-fi, now it’s high-fi, it’s grand, hence the name.

PN: How did your career progress from when you started out as an artist to how you have made a name for yourself now?

GD: In 1998, I downloaded a programme called Animation Maker and began teaching myself animation for fun, as well as learning cubase and making music. I never imagined That I would make it into a career. It’s been 14 years of hard work, but very fulfilling. I’ve animated dozens of videos, shown my videos around the world, worked as a games designer, had my music licensed  in films, met a lot of new friends and gotten better at my craft.

PN: Do you have a favourite place on Earth? A place, for example, you feel most inspired or that feels like a kind of sanctuary for you?

GD: I love New Orleans, it definitely had the greatest impact on my life growing up. My Grandfather, Red Hot Bergen, was a jazz band leader and my Uncle was a Mardi Gras costume designer so the traditions and the great love for the city was bestowed upon me at an early age.

PN: What lead you to use a Mississippi Delta soundtrack? 

Basically I recorded an album. The album is the soundtrack to my artwork. I grew up in the deep south in Georgia, but traveled back and forth the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans. The album celebrates the sounds I heard growing up – Rhythm and Blues, Roots Rock & Roll, Twangy Country ballads and yes, even marching bands.

I wrote it along with my song writing partner Pete Z in 2009, we recorded it in 2010 at Wendy House studios, produced my by drummer Adrian Meehan and myself. I don’t have an animation studio, just myself and my friend Ladypat, so the process of animating the album is a long and arduous one. I have two more videos to go and the album will be released in the Spring 2013.

PN: What were the last 5 things on your iPod?

GD: I’m a vinyl junkie. The last 5 records I listened to were…

Opal / Happy Nightmare Baby

Lite Storm / Warning

Cutis Knight / Down In The Village

Butthole Surfers / Locust Abortion Technician

The Mob / Witchhunt

PN: Do you find inspiration in music for your illustrations?

Music is the starting point. The music inspired the visuals, always. When I was a child, before music videos, I would listen to songs and visuals would dance around in my head and make up the visuals. I thought everyone had those visuals when listening to music but only recently learned that was something unique to me.

PN: Are there any other artists you admire and respect or, more controversially, don’t appreciate.

GD: There are too many to list! I love folk art, Italian Renaissance, Pop art, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Surrealism. As far as contemporary artists, I think Grayson Perry is amazing! I love his style and his ethos!  A brilliant mind and wonderful creations! There are equally many artists work I do not care for, but I would never slate another artist in print.

PN: You have a strong sense of psychedelic culture in your work, what is your favourite artistic movement?

GD: Again, it’s too hard to pick just one but I am enjoying the BBC4′s Sex & Sensibility series on the Art Nouveau movement. I would have loved to be alive in Paris in 1890, the detail is otherworldly. I’m also really into 1960′s Psychedelic & Nouveau revival. They took the shapes and added the intense colours, which is something I really identify with.

PN: What are the bigs things that you have coming up in 2012?

GD: I’m starting a short animated film to go with my album very soon, as well as two more videos. I’m planning a single release for later in thew year, with a few live performances. I’m also working on more lights with Chris Bracey (of God’s Own Junkyard), a few portrait jobs and redesigning my living room.

PN: Finally, tell us a little about your collaboration with Terry de Havilland. 

I have been friends with Terry and Liz for over a decade. We casually spoke about doing something together over the years and now was the right time. He is an architect of glamour. His shoes transform a woman’s body, they elongate the leg and shift the posture to insta-vamp. It’s a fun collaboration too as we have a similar vision. I’m a huge fun of his and have been wearing his shoes for some time now and so to work with him and have my illustrations on his creations has truly been a dream job.

Grande Dame – The Shakes from Grande Dame on Vimeo.

Interview by Alix Blankson.


You can read a feature on Grande Dame in Notion 58, out June 14.

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