Monday, February 25, 2013

Crown Heights Profile: Ron Taylor, Artist and Gallery Owner



Ron Taylor is not a typical artist. He uses unconventional tools to create abstract paintings, and unlike many artists, Taylor does not silo himself in his studio: he believes in community engagement.Since moving to Crown Heights 10 years ago, Taylor wanted to create a space where people in the neighborhood felt comfortable coming in and sharing in his work. A few years ago Taylor held a workshop with kids from the Greater Restoration Baptist Church Pastor Bogan’s church, right next door to his gallery. To continue that trend Taylor set up the front room of his workspace as a gallery, so that the community could come and look at his art.

Last spring Taylor took community engagement even further by opening up his space to SOS for our Arts to End Violence Festival. His gallery, located at 1160 St. Johns Place, was home to the SOS Arts to End Violence Art Showcase, a show of local professional and youth artists that ran from May 23rd until June 22nd.

 Taylor says he really enjoyed having youth artwork hanging in his gallery. People came by regularly to see the show; there hasn’t been anything else like it in Crown Heights.

Taylor wasn't always based in such an art-friendly area. He moved to New York 1983, and says he appreciates all the artistic opportunities that living here affords, especially compared to Birmingham, Alabama, where he grew up. In Birmingham Taylor was not exposed to nearly as much art and culture; there was no art major at his local college, so Taylor applied to Atlanta College of Art. He started with charcoal drawings and portraits, and eventually introduced color into his work. After four years at Atlanta, Taylor won a fellowship to attend graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. At Wisconsin he studied a broad array of techniques, and among these was airbrushing. While working on a project making silk-screen prints, he accidentally spilled the glue in a way that caused the ink to bleed through the canvass in some places and not others. This produced an interesting texture, and soon after Taylor began regularly using the airbrush and glue to reproduce that effect.
Since settling in Brooklyn, Taylor has used the airbrush extensively to create more abstract work, sensing that using the images in his work was a crutch. Instead, he builds from a more negative idea of what he doesn't want in the picture.

When beginning a new painting, Taylor uses a brush to lay out patterns on canvass. He uses either water- or oil-based paints that he cuts with turpentine to increase its fluidity. The first colors he lays down are usually light and warm colors and then he moves to darker, cooler colors. This serves to layer the image; a process he describes as similar to building a photograph. Over time, the paint comes to cover the entire surface, creating a field of color. The entire process takes a few days.

After painting, Taylor uses the airbrush pressure to move the paint, sponges to remove paint, and brushes to create controlled drips. The weather can influence the outcome of the work, as the temperature and air quality can affect the paint movement. His techniques lend Taylor's paintings a sense of space and depth; the viewer can almost enter into Taylor's work.

Taylor's influences are unusual: rather than taking cues from airbrush artists like Ed Paschke, or other commercial, photographic airbrush work, he was moved by musicians like Sun Ra and Jimi Hendrix. Recently he's been listening to music with abstract, industrial sounds as he paints. Still, Taylor admits to admiring Van Gogh in his early career, and acknowledges the influence of Jackson Pollack's color schemes and paint techniques. He loves the movement in Pollock's paintings, and imbibed his abstract style. 

These days, Taylor feels his art moving in a different direction. He thinks he might move back toward using imagery in his work. Perhaps it's something in the air. 

To learn more about this year's Arts to End Violence festival and arts contest, click here.To see art from last year's festival, click here.

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