Upon graduating from Cal Arts in the mid 90’s, Los Angeles artist Henry Taylor has cultivated a career as a portrait artist who uses his medium to connect with his subjects. That familiarity shows through in his work as most of his portraits come from impromptu encounters with the people who find themselves in his orbit: family, friends andhomeless people in downtown L.A. have all sat for Taylor’s portraits. In some works facial features are abstracted, like in The Darker the Berry, which is a piece that is meant to challenge the visitor to confront their own notions of interpreting and digesting blackness.
His influences are vast. His early work included a series of emotionally resonant portraits of patients he worked with as a psychiatric nurse in the late 80’s and early ’90’s, a series which highlights the way empathy informs his practice. A diverse compendium of musical influences instruct his practice as well. In interviews with the artist I’ve seen mentions of the Ohio Players, the Clash and Coltrane, a mash-up of artists that I can both respect and relate to.
Over the weekend I attended the Los Angeles Art Book Fair which is one of my favorite events in the city where over 300 publishers, galleries, artists and zine creators gathered in a 3 day expo that sprinkled in spontaneous performances and featured a tattoo parlor. Tattoos are about as ubiquitous as large framed glasses in the independent art publishing world, so forget photo booths, a tattoo parlor and art book shopping is a match made in heaven.
The tattoos intrigued and annoyed me–I was annoyed because the booth was sponsored by Gagosian, but I was intrigued because the tattoo designs were created by 6 artists-one of which was Henry Taylor. As a music lover it was a pretty cool, minimal sketch. If I am going to get any kind of tattoo it is going to be minimal. Given Taylor’s penchant for impromptu paintings and sketches, this particular design under these specific circumstances made sense to me…
But I chickened out.
You see, I’m a Virgo with control issues and if I’m going to get a tattoo, it’s to be unique (not one of countless others) and I’ve got to have a hand in designing it. But let’s be real, I mostly punked out. (sighs)