A New Abstract Expressionism Finds a Voice in the Work of a Connecticut Artist

Richard Friswell
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David Taylor, Landscape, o/c, 45″x 36″

The Erector Square Building in New Haven, Connecticut has long stood as a landmark of American ingenuity. For decades, it served as the manufacturing headquarters for a number of well-known children’s toys, including the long-forgotten, Erector Set. Now the building’s maze of hallways, linked by well-worn and patched, honey-yellow oak floors, bear the scars of its industrious history; its imposing, sliding metal doors, at certain junctions, tell of a time when sections of the factory may have been closed off for production purposes. Their quilt-like pattern of shiny steel plates and neatly arrayed nail heads, together with a Rube Goldberg-like system of handles, pulleys and counter-weights have me imagining that these doors may have once seen service on a 19th century, Jules Verne apparatus, leagues beneath the ocean waves.   

David Taylor, A Tender Field, o/c, 47″x 35″

  But, today, because the building offers high ceilings and ample light through its large windows, the rooms of the Erector Square Building are covered with paint, inks, pigments and sawdust, serving as studio space for dozens of artists and design companies. Here, I find David Taylor standing before a large wall, which is pinned with works on paper in various stages of completion. The wall, much like David, tells a story of industry and devotion to his craft that spans many years. The studio walls are arrayed with innumerable random patterns of multi-color marks and right-angled lines—the trace remains of works that were once created on this heavily-used surface. The wall and its many scars becomes a metaphor for the work of this artist, as he leans into the sheet of paper mounted there, oil or graphite stick in hand, exacting a shape or a line with the intensity of a composer marking a score, the music only now unfolding in his mind, like a bagatelle soon to be performed for an, as yet, unknown audience. As he draws, Taylor explains, “I work in an additive-subtractive way. I put down images and lines and then prune them away, so that the final image may be hidden in a maze of layers. I think of this process as having an eye for intervals—positive and negative spaces in the drawing that balance each other out. In spite of the sense of chaos, I work in a very ‘Western’ sort of way with a balanced finished product in the end.”   

David Taylor, Hand Puppet, graphite on paper, 53″x 78″

 Taylor’s work is deeply personal, with stacks of completed drawings and painting standing like chapters in an on-going diary that few have been allowed to read, or at least understand in their fullest significance. Taylor is a story-teller and each piece he undertakes is a narrative about his own life, the irony he sees in the world around him, the humor and the foibles of our daily existence. He tells me that, “I think in terms of large shapes which anchor the work. I find that when I was younger, I wanted to paint in a representational style—to prove my competency—but now I am more comfortable in an abstract realm. I am exploring the central mystery of drawing: how a flat surface can take on the look and feel of constructed space, form and light. In a way, I am most influenced by the Baroque style, where I introduce volume and scale in my work; where a sense of movement, energy and tension are important to me. Strong contrast in light and shadow to create dramatic effects were also key elements to Baroque artists and they are for me, too. If it can be said that the Baroque artist overturned every emotion for the sake of art, I guess that would apply to me to.”   

Every work on paper is a thicket of line and shadow, as marks are rendered, erased and marked over. The frenzy of line builds into a dense pattern that draws the eye of the viewer into dense clusters of light and darkness–a trip to an intriguing but unfamiliar destination. We find ourselves searching for familiar landmarks to help guide the journey, but Taylor’s work takes us instead, like Alice in Wonderland, deeper into the paradox of his form and color maze. Taylor says, “Each piece is an exploration of the central duality in life—humor and pain; good memories and bad; our ultimate mortality and the beauty in life. I bring the viewer to a point where I want to tantalize them, taunt them with the possible explanations in a piece and then leave off, so that they discern what it might mean to them.”  In the final analysis, though, he explains, “I want this to be a good experience for you, so there is enough embodied meaning to engage the viewer.”   

Hand Puppet, detail

 In, Hand Puppet, the tangle of lines invites the eye on a texturally-rich expedition across the surface of the page in search of a ‘landing point’. The dizzying and intense journey to the center of the piece and, repeatedly, back to the edges symbolically portrays the path of our own pressured and overly-committed lives and, perhaps, suggests that there are few places left to go where we can recoup our strength and courage. Erasures and shadows of former mark-making in this work, characteristic of Taylor’s approach to each project, become the tangled threads of memories and emotions that, likewise, seem to bind us all together as people.   

David Taylor, Dropping, o/c, 60″x 48″

 Apart from his drawings, Taylor’s paintings, too, offer a dense, symbolic path to understanding. In the complex, though less-finely parsed, color-layering style of either Expressionist Milton Resnick or Contemporary painter, Larry Pooms, Taylor’s work achieves a richly autobiographical aim. His canvases are a place where objects and emotions are deconstructed into a frenzy of line, color and form. As in, Dropping, Taylor focuses his creative effort through a prism, only then to train that same beam of energy into the topsy-turvy lens of a kaleidoscope, re-inventing the conceptual version of dropping or falling as a tumult of patterns, engaging the eye in its search for a narrative resting point as it tumbles through the air.   

Taylor will often allow the original vision for starting a painting to drift or shift as he explores the surface and the spontaneous forms that begin to emerge. He explains, “I can start at one point and end up somewhere else. It is an organic process for me. What stays in the piece is the part that still works for me the next day. The final work has to have ‘rhythm.’”  Taylor remains open to unconscious connections as they reveal themselves in the course of completing a piece; a process that, in some cases, might span several years. He takes previous works from the rack in his studio and speaks in deeply personal terms about their individual meaning to himself—symbolic reference points and details of color and form known only to him–but serving as markers in a deeply personal autobiography that is represented by the body of his work.   

David Taylor, Naught Bunny, oil on paper, 40″x 25″ (photo through glass)

 Like all of us, Taylor is no stranger to loss and sadness. His labors in the studio become a working-through process and he finds joy and humor in the effort. In the same way that life interrupts our plans along a carefully planned path to some destination; his work occasionally presents us with an unanticipated surprise. In Naughty Bunny, a languishing and slightly mischievous-looking rabbit lays sprawled across the center of an oil-stick-on-paper work, the figure surrounded by a jumble of vaguely-defined forms. The scene may be interpreted either as the unwelcomed party guest, passed out amidst the morning-after remnants of a raucous gathering; or an exhausted but very capable lover, one arm (paw!) hung over the edge of the bed, languishing in the memory of his most recent conquest.   

David Taylor, The Inventor (self-portrait), graphite on paper, 30″x 22″

 For Taylor, the role of story-teller and humorist occasionally finds its way into certain works in obvious, yet enigmatic ways. “I occasionally include cartoon figures in my work. For me, these comic book characters represent life’s games of struggle, chasing the unattainable and a reliance on imagined solutions in what may be the fiction of our everyday lives.”   

But behind the persona of a man with a perpetual twinkle in his eye as he speaks to me, is a deeply thoughtful artist who creates in an intensely personal way. He tells me, “My personal life is an important part of my work. But, I am willing to show myself in that way because I want my work to be seen. That is meaningful to me and helps me to decide where to look next for the stimulus behind my next painting or drawing. Reflecting back is one way for me to find content for my work; but I also believe that life has to be renewed constantly—through music, poetry and careful observation of people, in order to maintain a fresh perspective. Beauty is always at the end of its fifteen-minutes.”   

One senses in Taylor a degree of introspection and a desire to create that is both expository and self-curative. He is telling us his story through his work; a story that achieves more clarity and resonance for both the artist and the viewer, the more often it is recounted. As I left, David recited a poem from memory that he had written many years ago.  I believe, it speaks eloquently to his creative process, his life and to the richly-symbolic content of his work:   

ars poetica   

for Eleanor Orr and Mercedes Matter

Poetry is an observation   

Of rhythm in speech   

Its clarification and release.   

*   

Held to form   

As in drawing to surface,   

Pushed closed by artifice,   

Its depth is natural speech.   

*   

Form given life is a living voice   

A pulse felt through loss   

A transformation which is continual,   

Never complete.   

*   

We move through our lives   

Toward a disappearance   

We ourselves cannot meet.   

-David Taylor   

by Richard Friswell, Editor-in-Chief

20 Comments

  1. David Taylor June 16, 2010 12:40 am

    This empty space (for comments) has been nagging at me for months, ever since I got myself to read this “interview” through all the way. I know sometimes I talk fast, and I feel I must attempt a few corrections…Forgive me, Richard! If you find this all too disagreeable just take the whole thing down. (I really like that de Kooning quote on the home page, by the way.)

    First of all, about the Baroque artists, I never meant to suggest they were a big influence on me. I only brought them up to make the point that even when painters depict vast spaces, however convincing the illusion of depth, they also labor to preserve the picture-plane, to re-present it, so that the illusion of space and motion exists in tension with the presentation of the painting as a unitary object (Hans Hoffman called this primal tension “push-pull.”). In the same way a poem presents an individual voice, a fictive individual within the constraints of an artificial metrical scheme. Art, giving a semblance of life, is always a memento mori, a reminder of our final limitations along with our wishes and dreams of transcendence. That is what the poem is about.

    At the New York Studio School where I wss a student in‘76 and ‘77, working from the model for 40 hours a week had nothing to do with anatomy. The aim was to set the figure in space and set that space in its proper relationship to the picture-plane. This was the heart of Hans Hoffman’s catechism. One begins with the visual world. One infuses the tensions of time and space into the picture, breaking the plane and stitching it back together all at once. Whatever one is looking at or not looking at this is what matters, what creates a metaphysical object, an object that lives in the mind of the viewer.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that I reference my own life in my work because I want to share personal information with every viewer! I can only hope my work is meaningful but incomprehensible. Art keeps its secrets, a game of hints giving beauty through the shaping of unknown things.

    There is no chaos in my work and I am not interested in presenting the “action” of its making. No drama. By the time I am through with a picture I have taken conscious responsibility for every mark in it. All deliberate intention, no chance. That is my conceit anyway., my whimsical approach. I wouldn’t make too much of the fact that I haven’t appropriated images from advertising or used photographs in my work. ( I did use the “Columbia Records” mark in a few places. I will probably do that again.) I do not paint as if photography or Pop art never existed, I am not a throwback and don’t want to be one. I am a contemporary painter and an enthusiast of contemporary art, especially contemporary painting and drawing. There is a lot of good work being done . And the country is in good hands. The noisy right-wing tide is on the way out. The younger generation is (generally speaking of course) smarter than ours and interested in history.

    from the heart,
    David Taylor

    http://www.cwos.org/davidtaylor

  2. Richard Friswell June 16, 2010 8:48 am

    David- Thank you for your thoughtful (and thought-provoking) comments. Your comments and observations have helped me to better understand the thrust of your creative style and search for the narrative in your work. You have added to the voice of the writer with your response to the piece…and made it a fuller and richer article as a result. Hopefully, others will respond, as well and we can keep the conversation going.
    Rick

  3. David Taylor June 16, 2010 9:21 pm

    Thank you, Rick.

    I appreciate your openness.

    More comments would be great.

    http://www.cwos.org/davidtaylor

  4. Maralyn Adlin October 1, 2010 5:31 pm

    I am absolutley floored by your work and writing. The paintings and drawings weave through my mind rearranging some brain cells, in a good way, and your writing is brilliant in describing yourself in relation to the process by which you make them. They strike a chord of completeness and I feel a desire for a type of possession of that wholeness which I think corresponds to the words at the end of your poem, “towards a disappearance we ourselves can not meet. The “leaving off” that you say you do with your work seems to hint at the eternal, a whole story, though not one told in a linear fashion. The paintings appear so authentic with no line or color done for an “artful” affect, just a truthful symphony.

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