Textual Healing with Christopher Kane Taylor
Christopher Kane Taylor’s (NAP #108) work is bright, bold, humorous, and impulsive. His sentiments, scrawled in an almost-exaggerated hand-painted form, address his life, concerns, and future. While humorous at times, this text is also deep and thought provoking.
After Taylor was recently featured in NAP, I couldn’t stop thinking about some of his paintings and his resonating words, so I spoke to Taylor about his process and inspiration behind his works… - Ellen C. Caldwell
Ellen Caldwell: I have always been a sucker for any kind of text in paintings and print…probably something to do with my love for both writing and art. But your paintings really hit home with me.
Last week, I heard Nirvana's "All Apologies" play and I thought of your painting "Middle Age Introspection" immediately. I think this work is a prime example of how you capture really serious and heavy reflections playfully in manner and with aesthetic. Can you tell me a bit about this piece and your process behind it?
Christopher Kane Taylor: First of all thank you so much, that is very generous of you and it makes me so happy that you thought of my painting when the song came on.
I’ll be turning 40 in July and being a dad of a two-year-old now, I have been doing a lot of reflection on my life. I am starting a whole series of these middle-age introspections. This time of reflection I am in now is really great. I get to put a moment from my life into perspective and share my stories. I really like getting to know people and hearing their stories, and I think maybe people will like to hear some of my stories, or experience the stories as paintings or drawings. It changes the idea just a bit and gets to this idea of “otherness” that I’ll try and explain as we go along here.
Missing seeing Kurt was a big regret from my youth. Also it’s funny, too, because I can remember working that night washing dishes and thinking, “Well, I’ll see them next time they come to town.” That was in 1993 and there wasn’t a next time. Also, it’s about contradiction and work ethic. But ultimately it was the wrong choice and it’s a funny story to share. And you’re totally right about the playful thing. I am a playful and humorous person and hope the work also comes across that way; in general I love talking about art and hearing about people’s experiences. It’s my favorite part about teaching; talking with students about ideas and art. These pieces are really an extension of that.
EC: I also really appreciate your artist statement. Sometimes those can be painful (remember when NAP even took a poll to see if they should be continued in the print edition), but yours is refreshing, funny, and inspiring.
You say, “After a year of being a new dad, I wanted to paint something that told of my love for my baby daughter. It was through this event that I had the courage to break with any artistic baggage I was carrying from the past…”
I love that your love for your daughter helped you come to some sort of peace of mind with your process. Could you describe this a bit more?
CKT: I know what you mean. Some of those artist statements are like, really? But yes, I voted regardless to keep them.
The peace of mind came out of anguish and rejection. The rejection was actually from NAP the year before as well as a couple other things I applied for. I got all three rejections on the day in the mail and in email. It was the summer 2012 and Cora was about six months old, and I was home with her full-time while my wife was back to work.
That time was such a hard and wonderful time—of bonding with Cora but also of getting all those rejections. I truly felt that I was going to quit painting and adjunct teaching and try to get a “real” job. I felt so stupid and so naïve at what I was doing with my life. I mean I was married and had a little baby, and I was trying to plan a future in art that seemed contingent on always petitioning to somebody else’s notion of what art was. I was kind of artistically broken.
I embarrassingly recall calling my wife at work and telling her that I quit and I am throwing out all of my paints, and then I even decided that instead I am going to give all my art supplies to my buddies at Hozhoni because they can actually make art and I suck. Jess listened and said, “No you’re great, keep painting.” So after about 6 months I started new and with a different purpose and direction. I started with just the simple idea that I wanted to make art for my daughter and artwork that I want to live with, in our house.
EC: Have you made any works that are specifically for your daughter yet -- or all they all for her, in a larger sense?
CKT: Yes, it was actually the first piece I did with the text [“Coraviolet”]. It was about her and about being a dad and what it meant for me.
EC: It must feel so freeing to have gotten to that point, when as you explain "the writing is the drawing and the drawing is the writing." Do you feel like you had to go through a lot of other looks, feels, and phases to get here?
CKT: That is wicked funny to me because, Yes, Absolutely! Ever since I started painting I have always worked abstractly in one form or another and love the language of abstract art. Back then my artist statements and the images really didn’t sync-up, or rather the words and the work could be interchangeable or not; they didn’t own each other. Looking back now I needed the text in the work to release me from the formalistic language of abstraction.
I feel confident and directed about my practice right now. For the first time in my life I have a deluge of ideas and don’t have the time to get them all done. But this is a luxury problem as I see it. Also in this time of reflection I have been looking back to what I was interested in painting when I first started painting, and I refocused on my connection to Aboriginal Art. I spend a year in Darwin, Australia studying Aboriginal Art when I was an undergrad. I was attracted to the language of abstraction I saw in the work, but it also spoke to this kind of “otherness;” mapmaking, landscape, culture and story. Aboriginal Art had been an undercurrent in my thinking about painting for years. Since I started painting I have been searching for what that “otherness” was for me.
I also kept going back to this great conversation I had with an artist, when I was struggling with an issue in painting and he said, “Chris remember, it isn’t a painting of billabong; it is billabong.” I have been fortunate to have had a handful of truly profound moments in my life and this was one of them. In that split second it felt like my brain flipped; the way I saw painting changed. I have a great little painting I look at every day by Pipita Gordon, a Warlayirti artist, and it connects me to that time.
EC: I love the idea that this billabong moment has becomes a lasting moment. Earlier you also mentioned the Hozhoni Foundation—can you tell me a bit about your work with them and how it’s impacted your art?
CKT: Since 2010 or so I have been volunteering with The Hozhoni Foundation in Flagstaff. It is a day program that works with adults with developmental disabilities to make artwork. The artists make some of the best artwork I have ever seen in my life. Hanging out with these guys and working with them has brought back into focus what art is for me, which is this strong desire to tell a story, connect to another person, and share an experience. We live in a society that tends to marginalize people with disabilities, and generally we don’t feel like they have much to offer in pushing our culture forward. For me, seeing their artwork and the earnest desire to express themselves and wanting to share their stories and ideas has also helped me to brush away a lot of the negative or fearful thinking I can have about my work.
I look at Edward Haswood’s painting every day and see how he’s has painted his “Self-Portrait: Blue Face,” how he is showing us his sadness and pain but also how he incorporates cultural power symbols that gives him this bright glowing aura. Ed draws from Native American identity and pushes this pain and sadness into some kind of otherness, and the work transcends into this otherness that is amazing. I look at these two painting every day (Ed’s and Pipita’s). They give me this perspective that has helped me move my art forward. I found my “otherness” in the idea that the writing is the drawing and the drawing is the writing.
EC: What are you currently working on and does it differ much from these current text-heavy/text-savvy works?
CKT: No. I have so many ideas with the text and I am so excited about these ideas. I feel like I finally hit a groove and I have so much to say and play with; I am going to keep it going. I just need more time!
Christopher Kane Taylor lives and works in Flagstaff Arizona. He received his MFA from Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, and his BFA from Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, where he now teaches. Taylor is in a group show which runs until February 27th at the Eric Fischl Gallery at Phoenix College.
Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and editor.