Master Of All Trades: An Interview With Tara Masterson Hally

When I interviewed Jemma Hatherill last week, one name kept coming up again and again throughout our conversation: Tara Masterson Hally. Jemma’s passion for Tara’s work in several creative industries in Scotland was clear, and from that, I decided to get in touch with the woman herself. 23-year-old Tara is Irish, via America, England, Germany and France. She has been very settled in Glasgow’s creative scene since moving here in 2011 to study Communication and Graphic Design at Glasgow’s prestigious School of Art. So of course, we have adopted her as a, well, temporary “Scottish” gal because she’s far too cool to pass up the opportunity for a chat.

Where does your passion for graphic design stem from?

Well, I was always a very talented, prolific, and creative child. Um, just kidding, I don’t know! I used to build loads of stuff when I was a kid, much like most kids do I’m sure. My dad was hoping that energy would develop into becoming an engineer but much to his chagrin I decided I would try to go to Art School. I couldn’t paint (also didn’t enjoy it) so fine art was out of the question, but mostly just sort of decided when I was 15 that I Was Going To Be A Graphic Designer because for some inexplicable reason I just knew that was what I wanted to do, but I also knew that that was who I wanted to be.
The idea of things being printed/seen en masse was and still is something that really excites me about graphic design. In secondary school I was an editor for the student newspaper, and the most exciting bit for me was getting to layout all the articles and different pages and then use the multi-function printer in the staff room (lucky me) to print a couple hundred copies. Cheesy as it is, the best bit was getting to see everyone reading it the next day at break, and then inevitably the fall to grace when all the issues get left on the floor to set your ego right back in check.
In a horribly invasive way, I remember saying in my interview to get in GSA, “you can’t escape graphic design” which sounds considerably more threatening that it did in my head, but that’s still something I believe in. It’s pretty much present, in one form or another, everywhere in our daily lives. That’s not to say that my passion stems from a place of design being this omnipresent power, but it’s what keeps me inspired, usually the ‘bad’ design more so than the ‘good’. From my experience with graphic design there is a way of thinking that ‘this poster can change the world’ but in my view there is nothing worse than Serious Graphic Design, so I try to keep my approach as light-hearted as possible, which is very easy to do when I’m basically employed to take photos of bananas.

One of Tara’s degree show pieces.

You are the principle graphic designer for Art School club night PVC – how did you get that position and what influences the minimalist work you do for it?

I had done some one-off posters for the Art School while still studying at GSA, so had a good working relationship with them, particularly Matt Robin the vice-president of GSA’s student union. I think a combination of that and the work I had done for Jemma Hatherill’s series of club nights at Stereo called Poisoned Chalice sealed the deal. Jemma is one of the many bomb af djs involved with PVC. We have a really good understanding of each other’s aesthetic sensibilities, and I think our previous work together provided some reference to the rest of the team who might not have been familiar with my work at that point.
We knew from the beginning that it was going to be a series of monthly posters so it was a matter of agreeing on a format that could change every month but remain recognisable across time. This stage of development was really exciting. Glasgow has had an abundance of amazing long-running club nights and just-as-amazing visual promo material to go along with it, so the early stages were basically Matt and I nerding out over old Optimo posters. I had done some still life work for a Poisoned Chalice poster so going off of that we started thinking about how the use of photography of things wasn’t really an employed format for club posters in Glasgow, and from there decided still life would be an interesting medium for PVC to use.
In terms of it being minimalist, that was another parameter we set ourselves, the intention being that every month is plainly a relationship between two different objects. What’s interesting about these constraints is that simply by photographing two objects beside each other their meanings are really easily manipulated, they become visual puns basically. This all boils down to semiotics, signifier/signified yada yada, but for me it’s ultimately about making something that’s funny. A lot of the PVC posters are totally ridiculous but that’s also a really important part of the PVC ethos, avoiding seriousness. Totally sincerely the biggest influence tends to be whatever weird shit Pound Land is selling when I go in. Obviously the posters rely heavily on props, so realistically pound land is perfect for being able to shop around for stupid props without spending fortunes, and usually fits the style quite well. I honestly love nothing more than going to a pound/dollar store when I need to think/buy some ideas. Shawlands (my neck of the woods) just got a Poundworld and its literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me/PVC.

tara work
A promotional image from PVC.

During 2013/14 you spent time interning in New York. Did you enjoy the New York creative scene? What are the major differences between Glasgow and NY’s creative scenes?

To be honest I don’t think I spent enough time over there to be able to report with any authority on a scene at that time. There was definitely stuff going on, there always is, but I was only there for a few months at a time which for someone as socially awkward as me is not a very long time to warm up to people. Although s/o to my older sister Sarah who lives in Brooklyn and was cool enough to bring me to lots of amazing shows in lots of amazing venues (many of which sadly aren’t around anymore no thanks to Vice buying out half of Williamsburg). The only difference I can think of with any inkling of familiarity is that New York attracts much more transient creatives. The second summer I was living there I was staying in a supposedly infamous building of loft apartments in Bushwick (rumoured to have been ground zero for the bed bug epidemic of ’07). Unfortunately I failed in my plan to forge a life-lasting friendship with all my cool, interesting, sexually fluid, loftmates because I misunderstood that although to me they were My Interesting Brooklyn Loftmates, to them I was Just Another Subletter We’re Getting Away With Over Charging. Obviously a stupid example, but certainly in the environment I was in there are so many people constantly coming and going that people I was in contact with seemed a bit jaded with um, people. Don’t get me wrong I absolutley loved New York and can’t wait to eventually – hopefully – live there. Probably an obvious/redundant observation but its fair to say that scale is the biggest difference. There’s just more of everything in New York, more good stuff, more bad stuff, more anonymity, something which can be quite refreshing though in relation to a scene or city as small as Glasgow’s is.

You’ve done several exhibitions over the years. Which has been your favourite and why?

Most of the exhibitions I’ve been a part of have been part of my degree’s course and mandatory, but one I did last year, No Can Do, with my good friends Calum Macleod and Sarah Jones was a favourite (which is no hard feat though because I generally hate exhibitions, and believe that deep down – everyone else does). The three of us decided to do it ourselves, in an attempt to sort of force ourselves to make some work. We were in full blown degree-show-induced delirium at this point, and none of us had any idea what we were exhibiting up to a day before. But we pulled it together, it was a small exhibition, and not that many people came, but it was fun nonetheless.


You’re also in the band Chump – how do you find being a female in the male dominated Glasgow music scene?

You mean female dominated… right? Well, as my friend (and bandmate) Tony would say, domination is a construct enforced by the patriarchy so ‘domination’ is a patriarchal hegemony regardless of who’s doing the dominating, buuuuuuut, I do feel like a lot of the most exciting stuff going on at the moment is being done by females, and that is pretty inspiring and motivating. As a woman, and specifically in the Glasgow scene, I do think it’s important to acknowledge how supportive the entire scene is collectively and regardless of gender. Us women are cool and so are the dudes, and I love Glasgow for that, how freely it fosters creativity. Obviously there are still sucky moments borne from being a Woman In Music, but Chump is a pretty small scale band so we’ve been lucky enough to deal with cool people that we feel really comfortable with. There is occasionally the patronising sound guy, or the line up where I feel treated as a ‘female’ theme, or the dude who comes up to me after a show to ask me if I realise I’m playing my guitar the wrong way round and upside down (because I do – and yes, I know).


In the spirit of Women’s History Month: Who are the women that influence you musically?

Obvious answers first: Kathleen Hanna, Patti Smith, Poly Styrene, Siouxsie Sioux, Elizabeth Fraser, Ari Up, Victoria Legrand, Trish Keenan, and waaaaay too many others. Closer to home though, for ladies that without-fail inspire me every single time I have the pleasure to go to any local show I have to big up… Eilidh & Simone of Breakfast Muff fame/fortune, Kate ex-Pennycress and now conquering the world with Joanna Gruesome, Kay of beloved-Herbert Powell and now the almighty force that is Anxiety, all the PVC ladies Sophie Reilly, Sophie Kindreich, Letitia Pleiades, Cat Reilly, and of course Jemma Hatherill, Caz Mills who is not in a band but when I see her music plays in my heart, the gals in Seconds who I don’t know the names of but they rule, Suzi one half of the happiest Happy Meals, and Anna Schneider of Thoth/North American War for accepting me as her unsolicited mentee, and countless others who I am too lazy to think of but care about deeply all the same.

What are your future plans as a graphic designer and as a musician? Do you plan to stay in Glasgow for creative purposes?

Right now I am very happy in Glasgow where I can continue to work on music and freelance design whilst payin the bills with bar work. The band I’m in, Chump, are about to release our first tape, so after that we are looking forward to recording more, hopefully touring at some point. In terms of design, I experienced a mild panic after graduating as the done thing for graphics seems to be immediately moving to London/Berlin to get a job in an agency, but I decided I would rather stay in Glasgow and work on design jobs that I actually care about than working for some ad agency (not to say that that’s the right decision for everyone). For example, I got to shoot some pictures of Happy Meals the other week and that was really exciting and creatively fulfilling to get to do work for clients that I’m a fan of. So hopefully more exciting stuff on the horizon, Glasgow can’t get rid of me that easily!

An example of Tara passionately embracing the urban jungle that is Glasgow.

Check out more of Tara’s work and find out more about at on her website.

And if you’re around, head to The Old Hairdresser’s this Friday to see Chump’s tape launch and Tara in all her upside down guitar glory – Facebook event here.

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