Taylor White is an active producer of fine pictorial convention. With a background in illustration, her work can be found in print, in urban gallery spaces, on city streets, and in public and private collections. Taylor took out the first annual Red Book Art Prize in 2013, with her painting 'Drifter'.
Firstly, congratulations on winning the Stupid Krap Red Book Art Prize. Tell us more about the piece that you submitted.
Thanks so much! This piece ‘Drifter’ was an experiment in portraiture using a combination of mediums; I explored creating texture with aerosol and acrylic and then introducing some facsimile of classic oil techniques over top to see what kind of depth I could create. The portraits I make depict androgynous human children, in a way that conveys an openness and a malleability that exists in us prior to adulthood. The imagery, the dragging motion across expanses of partially rendered human likeness, refers to the fact that no thing -- including human existence -- has ultimate substantiality, which in turn means that things are neither permanent nor totally independent of anything else. Much of my work explores concepts like these and either directly or indirectly addresses the idea of ultimate emptiness, or in other words, that everything is interconnected and in constant flux. A deep appreciation of this idea of emptiness saves us from the suffering caused by our attachments, and our resistance to change and loss.
You have a varied approach with your use of mediums – from works on canvas, paper and even murals, do you find the physical process of execution as important as the process of formulating ideas? Tell us about about the process involved in your work.
I think perhaps I have a tendency to romanticise my concepts, and intellectualise the techniques I use to convey those concepts. I don’t necessarily have a mechanized way of approaching any project - the way they teach you in school, to develop a “style,” which is something I struggled against for years after graduating University - so each project is approached as if discovering painting for the first time. I have an idea to convey, and the technical skill with which to do it, but execution requires I have this open conversation with the physical medium. Sometimes it can become a hindrance, for example if I have a deadline and get too caught up in the “how-to” of executing any particular project, but approaching any piece in a static way seems to me somewhat antithetical to the things I’m thinking about when I’m making the work; that everything changes from moment to moment. It should be kept interesting. It also helps having a tightly curated page of Instagram ‘likes’ that ends up looking like a bit of a mood board for my work; Images that I see that feel aesthetically on par with what I feel about the work I do. This catalog of saved images can serve as a springboard at times when I might feel creatively stymied.
What artists inspired you when you started making art, and whose work catches your eye at the moment?
I have been making art since the dawn of my own existence, so I have a long list of visualinfluences that I’ve carried with me since childhood. Movies like E.T. and The Land Before Time; the illustrations in Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way For Ducklings,” which was a book I had memorized before I had any academic knowledge of reading; and other brightly colored examples of childhood bric-a-brac. When I was in school for illustration I looked at the work of James Jean; that was around the Fables era, and I loved the fantasy and emotion he puts into his work. These days I’m more interested in what my street art contemporaries are up to; moving to Melbourne just blew the scope of my universe wide open, and seeing what is possible to achieve on concrete and mortar has been such an inspiration. French artist Jaw is someone I’m really keeping my eye on; being tremendously appreciative of technique I’m just in awe of what he can accomplish with a spray can. That guy is a true master of the art, and I look forward to working with him sometime in the future.
Your portraiture and figurative work convey some sometimes dark and unsettling themes, where does the emotion of your work come from?
I wouldn’t consider the work intentionally dark, although I do have a pretty unabashed approach to the reality - and the okayness- of human vulnerability. I believe in the authenticity of a sad experience, and the very genuine and pure happiness that directly arises from that. Our society tries to encourage us of the idea that happiness means full-on avoidance of sorrow, and I think that’s devastating to our culture. I hope my work encourages viewers to go to those places, to notice that sensation that arises from within them when they realize there’s something else below the surface, something that’s not just pretty to look at.
You’ve also worked as an illustrator – do you ever find it frustrating working with clients?
Oh, certainly. It’s always frustrating to work when you realize that you don’t really have much control over the work you’re doing. It can range from little annoyances that really have everything to do with the artist’s ego, to the more ridiculous requests “that’s great, but can you make them smile more?” But as illustrators, we have to realize the role we play in the relationship. Clients come to illustrators precisely because they aren’t able to envision their concept without things being specifically drawn out; if they could, they wouldn’t need an illustrator. It’s sometimes inconceivable to think that it could make any difference to the final outcome whether the character you draw has brown hair, or is wearing a collared shirt, or whether that little detail you added out of excitement should end up being interpreted as a confusing distraction. But that’s because we’re visual thinkers, and we’re impassioned. The people who hire us, usually aren’t. If you’re a person who makes things for other people (and if you’re an artist for a living, you are) you have to figure out how to honor your audience without letting them have too much power over you, especially emotionally. And you have to make sure you get paid.
Tell us about your studio. How important is your location on how it influences your work?
Well, what I’d like to say is that space doesn’t matter as far as specifics go; that there are certain basic necessities to maintaining a creative space but the effectiveness of your external conditions rely entirely on your internal conditions, but the reality of it is somewhat different. Having hopped around for years into various different spaces I can say for sure that conditions matter; the better the conditions, the greater benefit to your creative output. I’ve certainly been able to make great work while sitting on a milk crate with my elbows tucked in and my canvas propped up on cinder blocks, but I developed sciatica that way. I worked in a studio with no water source and inadequate lighting, and wound up succumbing to waves of violent frustration on a weekly basis. While I’ll be grateful for any space that allows me to spread out and create the work I need to in a temperature-controlled environment, I certainly have an idealized studio in mind, and it’s something I plan to acquire one day when I establish my home base. The list of necessities includes ventilation, privacy, and a working tap.
What is your own personal art collection like?
You know, I’m somewhat embarrassed about this but I don’t have much of an art collection at the moment. Having spent so many years traveling and not really having a steady home, I haven’t made much of an effort to collect things I would have to account for as I move around. I have many dear friends, artists I admire, whose work I would love to own some day, and when I get ready to head back to the States I’d love to do some trading. Maybe I dropped a hint just now.
How would you like to see your artwork evolving into the future?
My main concern is just that it keeps evolving. I can’t actually see into the future so I have no idea what it holds for me but I’m open and excited to find out. This turn of events with Stupid Krap has led to opportunities I hadn’t planned for, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I’m working towards improving and evolving my technique through larger-scale works that allow me to explore different mediums and terrains, and I hope for my work to continue to take me around the world. I’m having a great time and I look forward to seeing what’s around the next corner.
Check out more of Taylor's work here.