The Road of Paint: Zadie Smith, “Henry Taylor’s Promiscuous Painting,” New Yorker, July 30, 2018 issue

Henry Taylor “Cicely and Miles Visit the Obamas,” from 2017, shows Taylor_s spatial, tonal genius.Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe

Henry Taylor “Cicely and Miles Visit the Obamas,” from 2017, shows Taylor’s spatial, tonal genius. Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe

[Henry Taylor’s paintings are transfixing for me. I’m infinity shy of his league as a painter, but I was touched by the “road of chaos… road of paint” phrase that Zadie Smith uses to name the path that Taylor has taken. (This wonderful article has also brought me my first encounter with the adverbialization of “synecdoche.”) For me, trying to paint is as necessary as it is fraught with anguish. I’m guessing crochet might be more relaxing!]

Horses, in Taylor’s work, appear sometimes as a symbol of freedom and power and sometimes as an expression of the opposite: power restrained, power trapped and fenced in.

The artist who once, back at Camarillo State Mental Hospital, painted a suffering patient synecdochically, with a screaming mouth for a head, could have easily become a commercial artist, using the part to represent the whole, pitching and selling on either side of the horizontal line that bisects so many of his canvases. He could have been a maker of icons and iconography, like Warhol, who made a Campbell’s soup can a metaphor for capitalism and made repetition itself a metaphor for fame. Instead, Taylor has chosen the road of chaos—that is, the road of paint.

Henry Taylor “Man on Horseback in Naples, TX,” from 2015.Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe

Henry Taylor “Man on Horseback in Naples, TX,” from 2015. Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe

Henry Taylor “Screaming Head,” from 1990. Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe

Henry Taylor “Screaming Head,” from 1990. Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe

(Zadie Smith, “Henry Taylor’s Promiscuous Painting,” New Yorker, July 30, 2018 issue)

Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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8 Responses to The Road of Paint: Zadie Smith, “Henry Taylor’s Promiscuous Painting,” New Yorker, July 30, 2018 issue

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    For me Taylor’s work gains momentum when I see more of it. An individual painting or two or three can see slipshod — another artist getting away with half-baked skills because he’s got a gimmick, spiel, or the right anatomy at the right time — but in the aggregate his light approach represents a certain commentary and orientation on his reality. No single painting by him grabs me for more than a few minutes, but if I had a book of his art I’d thumb through it regularly.

    • JMN says:

      I like what you say about Taylor. I think I effervesced about him on the spur of the moment. I still like what I see, but it’s also enhanced by Zadie Smith’s adulatory prose. I think I was struck by the crudeness of his technique in a sense, a sort of renunciation of naive nuance that I sweat over. It’s sort of like not-give-a-shit painting. Honestly, I stay confused much of the time over art. But you always spring some insight on me. I have high respect for your trained eye.

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Everything comes back to music, somehow. Wanna’ understand art, just compare any idea or conclusion about visual art to music and see if it still works. So, when you talk about a “trained eye” a lot of that is an eye that has looked at art extensively.

        When it comes to music, and music I like, and recommending music to other people, well, I CAN’T recommend some of my favorite music unless the other person already has done a lot of listening, and not just to whatever is the most popular. You can’t just spring Shostakovich, or Gentle Giant, or Qawwali music on someone who’s only listened to whatever the market is pushing.

        Oddly, people who haven’t bothered to look at art think they can judge it in a split second.

        Anyway, I agree with you about the not-give-a-shit painting, even though I’m going through a give-a-shit period. There is no right or wrong way to paint. However, I’ve “always” maintained that Pollock would have been a better abstract painter if he did landscape oil paintings on Sundays.

        So, back to music. I’m a bit like the kind of guitarist who can play a range of things, but can’t real music, or rather can but trailed off after getting down the basics. And then one day I decide, well, shit, let me just learn ALL the scales and learn to play some classical pieces by Rodrigo and let’s see what happens.

        Art lives in a sea of arbitrariness and relativity, and I fear the water is getting toxic, probably because of too much of the ridiculously arbitrary.

      • JMN says:

        Such good remarks. I know Shostakovich somewhat, but I must check out Gentle Giant and Qawwali music. I like what you say about Pollock. I think “Fantasia para un gentilhombre” is by Rodrigo. I used to have it on vinyl. I studied classical guitar for a time in Spain with Graciano Tarrago, and with a young French guitarist in Raleigh — I was ABD after taking my doctoral exams and working at the NC Museum of Art. I could never bite the bullet hard enough to master technique, and was held back by my deficiency in music theory. The guitar is easy to play badly and a bitch to play well! I wish I had studied piano.

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Gentle Giant is an acquired taste (also the apt title of one of their albums). they are perhaps the most experimental, complex, and least commercially viable rock band of the early 70’s. Their music reeks of musical intelligence, complexity, and sophistication, but can be abrasive and annoying at times until one gets it. Here’s a taste of them playing live, in which the whole band plays percussion, and there’s a xylophone duet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIaG8a9ACYY

        And here’s an example of their mature style (note the experimental piano): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_wrhRlyB6A

        There most recent recording are their worst, where they attempted to go commercial in order to survive, but couldn’t do it.

        They were my favorite band in High-school when my peers were listening to AC/DC, Van Halen, and Rush.

        Qawwali is the traditional Sufi music coming out of Pakistan, and made most famous by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. They tried to get close to God via singing, and that’s what it sounds like. They try to produce a trance-like, transcendent, religious ecstasy in the listener. Here’s a good example:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1XJ_bY51b4&list=PLCggtCSRSssKfeLRsSIyPtqQXdm_aAv5v&index=77

        I’ve seen a few live performances, and my favorite parts are when one of the singers lifts his hand in the air and starts, well, screaming rather beautifully, as if out of spontaneous passion.

        That’s by Rodrigo, and exactly the point I was trying to make. One may choose to paint like Henry Tayler, or Francis Bacon for that matter (may favorite 20th century painter), but I doubt Tayler is very proficient at traditional skills (the equivalent of being able to play Rodrigo), and I KNOW Bacon definitely isn’t. Obviously it isn’t necessary, or wasn’t. Now the competition is so fierce for the unknown, unconnected artist without the correct biology or physiognomy has to be so good her or she can’t be ignored.

      • JMN says:

        I’m grateful for the links. I’ve listened to all of them, and definitely want to know this music better. You describe Gentle Giant aptly. The complexity stands out. The Qawwali music is approachable for me in light of other things I’ve heard. Thank you for giving me some music to explore further. You definitely are on the cutting edge! I like Francis Bacon a lot, too.

  2. A fine example of how art communicates more than surface images….Wonderful!

    • JMN says:

      I agree. Thank you for visiting and commenting! I must say, the title of your blog makes it very necessary for me to see what you are up to there. Thanks again!

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