Walking into ASU graduate Tasili Epperson’s home is like being transported away from Tempe.
Dark wood walls accentuated by shelves holding up a prize unicycle and an empty bottle of Jameson, as well as cool cement floors decorated with paint splotches and flowers, lead the way into a checkerboard kitchen. A quick walk to the backyard, and you’re pretty positive you’re in the Pacific Northwest, not a suburb off Broadway. Tall grass envelops your toes and thick willow trees offer a sanctuary from whatever record-high temperature decides to pop up over the course of the day.
It’s its own “Narnia” in the desert, whisking you off to places you have yet to explore. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what Epperson’s art is like. Her realistic portraits have a certain quality that makes you feel as though you’re not exactly looking at what you are, and there’s more to explore.
Originally from northern Arizona, Epperson graduated from ASU last May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and drawing, and she has never been so sure about something most people are unsure about.
“I don’t feel like ‘being an artist’ is a huge concept for me,” Epperson said. “It’s totally just what I do. It’s been a part of my life for so long, that it’s how I function on a daily basis.”
Epperson’s love of art goes back decades. As a young girl, she was incredibly close to her grandmother, a fellow artist who encouraged her to immerse herself in creativity. Epperson recalls one of her grandmother’s rooms, which was filled to the brim with sketchbooks, with a sense of admiration and gratefulness. Her parents weren’t necessarily artists by trade, she said, but art was always important in the household.
“I feel really lucky, because my family really focused on that,” Epperson said. “I went to some alternative schools growing up, where I was always encouraged to play outside, create things, read and write, and without that, I don’t think creativity would be such a big part of my life.”
While it seems like going to art school would be a natural progression for Epperson, she wasn’t really sure about the path she wanted to take after high school. There was no clear road for her to go to art school, or to enroll in college for any other major, for that matter. It wasn’t until she took an AP art class her senior year and scored the highest score possible on her portfolio that she realized art could be her future.
“I had no back-up plan,” Epperson said. “Then I was like, ‘OK. This is something I care about, something I like to do and something I can do,’ and after that, I started applying to art schools.”
The price tag of an art degree seemed ridiculous at most other colleges Epperson applied to, which helped narrow down her selection to ASU. The first two years flew by, filled with general artistic concepts, and it wasn’t until junior or senior year when Epperson began blooming as a collegiate artist. She credits small class sizes and having the same instructors over and over, which led to development of helpful, feedback-filled relationships with her professors and mentors.
During the course of her artistic experience at ASU, Epperson gained a certain confidence in working with paint, a confidence that was absent when she had previously tried it years ago.
“There was this acceptance within myself, this idea that I don’t need to be constantly thinking about how good my work is or what others think. I can just … be,” Epperson said.
Jerry Schutte, an associate professor at the Herberger Insitute for Design and the Arts, who specializes in painting and drawing, had Epperson in four art classes. Schutte said Epperson’s struggles were a bit more agonizing, because she chose to be a figurative artist. He called it a “special kind of curse.”
However, Schutte said he was able to see her drastic improvement firsthand over the time of her instruction at ASU.
“She figured out how to relax, and that’s a big part of it,” Schutte said. “You can’t be overly uptight, and you have to learn how let yourself go. You can’t improve until you do that. It’s very much like being an athlete or a musician — you do best when you can do it in a relaxed state rather an a tense one, and Tasili made some of her best paintings because of her ability to let go.”
During her last year at ASU, Epperson was granted an honors studio space. Five or six students are selected each year to occupy the space, and they are given 24/7 access, entrance keys, a place to store art supplies and most importantly, an area to produce art. Without the space, Epperson said she wouldn’t have created half of the paintings she did.
Without those paintings her senior showcase and the subsequent show she proposed to ASU after graduation wouldn’t have happened. And without those shows, Epperson said she would have little idea of what she would be doing. All the art she’s produced in the past four years was for school, and without the deadlines for her gallery shows, she was unsure of what was next.
“You realize that you’re not actually being required to do anything, and that it’s up to you,” Epperson said. “If you want to do it, you have to work really hard. That’s why I’m so grateful for my shows. They gave me real motivation to keep creating.”
A part of most artist’s post-collegiate adventures, Epperson is not entirely sure what’s she’s going to do next. Beside her goal of simply being an artist, having shows and selling work, she’s toying with the idea of possibly teaching art at the college level, but has yet to take any concrete steps toward the goal.
Unlike other artistic free spirits, the idea of not knowing is scary for Epperson. So, for now, it’s time for her to escape the monotony of living and working the daily grind in Tempe. She’s now in northern Arizona for a reclusive retreat in order to find inspiration and structure again, despite the fact that all her artistic opportunities lay in the city.
By taking a few steps back, Epperson hopes that it will help her take a few steps toward making more art and going back to school.
As for Epperson’s artistic continuation, Jerry Schutte has realistically positive thoughts.
“All she needs is the right luck and the right encouragement, but it has to come from within herself,” Schutte said. “Painting is impractical — mostly the world wants you to stop, but she’s definitely good enough to keep going.”
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