It was a time when Gigantor Robots and Apollo Moon Rockets where the toys to have. The Beatles were singing “Let it Be” and the popular films where 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 very own 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, in an effort to keep her from attacking the neighbor’s new raspberry plants, introduced her to landscape painting. The painting classes, which she had an inclination towards, lead 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 own outlets. Her mother and grandmother were very skilled in the art of 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 were the inspiration to a young mind. Her father was also a chemist and she would watch as he would mix batches of magic potions for this, that, and the other. One of his favorite games would be name the element, a game Tokarski was not very fond of but made an impact in her creative future for she was never afraid to mix up something new and strange.
This rich background had another element to it, her family was very much old-fashioned and patriotic. At her childhood home, you could find an old red barn which in its hay-day was adorned with Pennsylvania Dutch Hex signs. Touches of folklife can be found covering her grandmother’s and cousin’s homes where she spent a lot of her childhood time. Mixed with these decorative touches are early colonial inspirations. Today she intently uses these icons from her past to evoke a nostalgia for a more innocent time and her feelings of home.
On her mother’s side of the family were more adventures where you could find in their home everything from a suit of armor to paintings of Spanish bullfighters. German coo coos and crazy Sparkle Cats ticked away on the walls. All manner of deer skins, Cherokee headdresses, and different Native American artifacts could be found in grandpa’s den. These little wonders laid the foundation for the curiosity of wonderful things.
All through her young educational years, Tokarski stayed very active, 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, in a moment of creative innovation, she created the Chellist. A figure reminiscent of cubism but with waves of music flowing out in very sharp fashion. That won her a Golden Scholastic Key award and 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 popular 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 a springboard 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 own way. Art represents our thoughts and for Tokarski’s newest project she revisits American Folktales. In particular, the ghost tales, which she hopes will reconnect a younger generation in 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 little surprises like her own likeness as Mrs. Van Winkle and her husband as Rip. Always one for a bit of fun, her young son, named after the Washington Irving’s trickster in Sleepy Hallow one Braum Bones, is featured as a ghost gnome climbing the mountain. A role he was not overly thrilled about modeling for. Combining a lot of different material in each piece, she then lets the paint define the painting, most of the time with happy surprises. Always the chemist’s daughter, no two painting are ever quite the same.