Tara Key and Tara Jane O'Neil

Tara Key and Tara Jane O’Neil | Courtesy of the artists

Louisville’s music scene has been lauded in nationwide music press for decades. And starting Friday, July 12, two of Louisville’s punk pioneers from the ’80s and ’90s will show off a completely different side of their creative spirits.

Tara Key, formerly of the Babylon Dance Band and currently a part of the New York-based Antietam, and Tara Jane O’Neil of Rodan present “TK + TJO = TKO: New Work by Tara Key & Tara Jane O’Neil” in the gallery space of the Highlands record store Surface Noise

Insider caught up with the two via phone to talk about the show and find out how they got to know each other in New York. 

Both had heard of another “Tara from Louisville” while in New York, and the two finally met in the mid-’90s when Rodan played its first show in the Big Apple.

"McAlpine Locks and Dam" by Tara Key

“McAlpine Locks and Dam” by Tara Key

Key recalls that moment.

“(Our friend) said, ‘Tara, meet Tara.”

O’Neil remembers that meeting in a similar way, although she also has an earlier memory of Key: She saw Key and the Babylon Dance Band live. 

“Tara (Key) showed up, and at the time she had short hair, she was wearing a leather hat, and she was up on stage … I was pretty young at the time, I was 15, going to hardcore shows and stuff,” says O’Neil. 

Members of the hardcore punk scene, then and now, can tell you that far too often there is a gender disparity exhibited on stage — punk and hardcore may be a rebellion against our dominant structures, but that rebellion doesn’t always manage to leave the sexism of those structures behind, so the image of Key on stage was pretty formative for O’Neil.

“Seeing a woman present that way was really exciting,” she says. 

Their friendship hasn’t taken any breaks since it began, and the two even worked together on Antietam’s 2004 record.

Key praises O’Neil: “(She’s) a multi-faceted artist, and I wanted to do something together.”

"Two Ladies" by Tara Key

“Two Ladies” by Tara Key

As the two were considering the possibility of a visual art team-up, Key came across a box of photographic negatives. 

“They had belonged to my dad and my uncle, who were both serious photographers but who never got any attention basically,” says Key. 

This discovery came not long after Key’s mother had died. 

“The negatives hadn’t been taken care of really, so when I took them out, I could see scratches on them. I could see everybody’s fingerprints from who had handled them, from my uncle to my mom to who knows who,” explains Key. “All those folks have passed now, so it really was emotional to know that I’m holding this object that they touched, that they put their heart and soul into.”

Key had gone through some of the negatives before, but when she did, she was preparing photos for her mother’s funeral services.  

“When I went back through, I saw amazing photographs that weren’t members of the family, which is what I’d concentrated on. But also landscapes and weird double exposures of stuff,” she says. 

While digitizing the negatives, Key’s creative spirit struck. She scanned them into the computer in a variety of ways, as well as manipulating them in Photoshop, to see how different approaches would affect the final images. She arrived at a process of scanning the black-and-white negative into the computer using the setting for a color negative. 

“And when I did that, magic colors appeared, not unlike what should have been there, but kind of hyped up,” says Key. 

She knew she wanted to exhibit these photographs and decided they could make a great show with O’Neil. 

Untitled by Tara Jane O'Neil

Untitled by Tara Jane O’Neil

O’Neil looked at the pictures and began to consider which pieces of her art she could include. While she eventually decided to use photographs from a project she began last spring, O’Neil works in multiple genres. 

“I move around a lot in the way I do visual stuff — mostly it’s drawing and painting ,” says O’Neil. “I used to do a lot more painting, but then I spent a ton of time on tour, so everything  had to be quite small, so I had a pack of pens and pencils and my notebooks, and that’s what I had to work with.”

Touring meant a lot of time on the road, but O’Neil says she has always moved around a lot.

Since she settled down a few years ago in New York, O’Neil had begun a photography series, cataloging objects she had carried in her various travels, objects that had been with her long enough that they had become precious artifacts as well as things that had been passed down to her from relatives. 

O’Neil saw these photographs as being akin to the work Key was presenting. O’Neil’s work is photography of artifacts, and Key’s work is photography made from the artifacts she found, the negatives of photos taken by her father and uncle.      

Both of these collections of work reflect on time and, in turn, reflect the time the two Taras have spent with each other as musicians and visual artists over the years. According to Key, artists need a community of other artists to help them grow. 

“You climb the ladder, and you take turns on the rungs,” says Key.

“TK + TJO = TKO: New Work by Tara Key & Tara Jane O’Neil” opens with a free reception on Friday, July 12, from 6 to 9 p.m. The exhibition hangs through Aug. 3. Surface Noise is located at 600 Baxter Ave.

And on Saturday, July 13, Key’s band Antietam will perform at Louisville Turners with O’Neil, Jmy James Kidd, Juanita and other bands. Music begins at 7:30 p.m., and Turners is located at 3125 River Road.