It takes courage to do a lot of things. But, in a way, it doesn’t actually take courage, because you are free to do it. It’s like jumping in the water. The water’s cold, but you just jump in. You’ve gotta just jump in all the fucking time. – Henry Taylor (from Beer with a Painter, Hyperalleric, June 27, 2015)
Henry Taylor’s painting, Cicely and Miles Visit the Obamas, from 2017,captures a lot about what’s powerful in Taylor’s work. It’s formally strong – using color and marks to establish a vibrant and compelling space on the surface of the canvas. But it’s his content that really compels me. Juxtaposing a 1968 promotional photograph of Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis at a film premier with the White House recently vacated by the Obamas, Taylor draws us into contemporary Black history – celebrating victories while casting a wary eye at the state of White Supremacy in the country. As Zadie Smith notes, the painting speaks to the enduring trauma of racism – the need for Black people to be on guard even when you’ve achieved at the highest level.
Taylor’s work looks to both his immediate surroundings and his broader cultural
experience for ‘landscape’ from which to make work. Often intimate, drawing directly from his everyday experiences, but always political – making evident how the personal and shared cultural assumptions collide in Black life – Taylor’s oeuvre becomes an aesthetic archive. Incorrectly, critics often place his work within the ‘outsider’ canon. His work is in conversation with an array of his predecessors – narratively with artists like Jacob Lawrence; but formally with other California artists, like David Park.
His painting, Uh Oh (2004), acrylic on canvas, 29 x 37 inches, which documents the sexual life of a friend who had a stroke at 28 and his wife, gives a strong aesthetic nod to Matisse.
From Wikipedia: Henry Taylor (born 1958) is an American artist and painter who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Taylor is most well known for his acrylic paintings, mixed media sculptures, and installations.
From Blum and Poe / Los Angeles: Henry Taylor (b. 1958, Ventura, CA) continues to delve and expand upon the language of portraiture and painting, while also pointing to the social and political issues affecting African Americans today. From racial inequality, homelessness, and poverty, to the importance of family and community, Taylor says, “My paintings are what I see around me…they are my landscape paintings.” His portraits reveal a fascination with the sitters, as well as with the psychological and physical implications of “space”—public vs. private, interior vs. exterior.
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