"Oh, you should hear the song I just wrote for Nancy Pants!" Ohara Hale suggests brightly, leaning over her laptop, her face lit up by a salt rock lamp and her long, uneven braids skimming the keyboard. But just as soon as the music starts—a lo-fi, Patti Smith-style track she recorded only hours before—she's spun around to examine the drawings taped to the wall of her apartment-turned-studio. "My mom's friend said I have kokoro, a Japanese heart," she begins (Hale's mother is Japanese), smoothing down the corner of a colored-pencil landscape. "I see that half of me coming out in my new work, the minimalism, the connection to nature…."
Before she finishes her sentence, Hale skips across the room and grabs a stack of books off her desk. These might offer the best insight into her mile-a-minute mind: Carl Jung shares a shelf with Charlie Brown; a guide to Tibetan Buddhism sits atop a stack of Tove Jansson's Moomin comics.
Hale is a visual artist and a musician, but above all, she is a translator. Not between languages, but between cultures: high- and lowbrow, child- and adulthood.
Her silliest illustrated works, like "Pizza Doing Stuff" (she was into pizza before it was trendy) or "Moderne Luv" a comic starring incredibly cute genitalia - prove her point, having garnered placement of her books and cards in giftshops like the Tate and the MoMa.
Even her Who Did It? boxed collection, with its cartoon sloths and walruses wondering who sneezed or farted, is meant to "teach kids about bodily functions and how to deal with them in healthy and polite ways." The result just happens to be sweet, funny, and downright Seussian.
It helps that Hale's been developing her craft since she was a child herself in Joplin, Missouri. "My family couldn't afford to send me to dance class or music lessons," she explains. "So I taught myself. My dad would get me stuff at yard sales, a violin, and be like, 'Here, try this.'"
She has stayed true to her autodidactic nature as an adult: as evidenced by a stint designing textiles in L.A., and a so-called "self-imposed" artist's residency in her Montreal apartment.
"I never went to school, so I play everything by ear: piano, cello, guitar…" she reveals, as if it's the most natural thing in the world. "I just do it until it feels right, until it's what I hear or feel inside."
So far her instincts have served her well. One second she's playing a secret solo show in the Montreal dive bar where Arcade Fire got their start, the next, her band (or one of her bands) Nancy Pants is getting a glowing write-up on the influential music blog, Consequence of Sound.
Like her art, her music career can be so eclectic that it's hard to keep up—but pity the person ready to dismiss her: "Oh, I can have a grown-up conversation about philosophy, if you want," she says, "use big words to communicate my ideas." She picks up a copy of Who Burped, the cover emblazoned with a guilty-looking orange snail. "But this way is much more fun."
See more of Hale's work at oharahale.com.