WHETHER YOU CALL HIM a figurative painter or a portrait painter, labels he is reluctant to embrace, Henry Taylor paints people, almost exclusively. He paints his family, his friends, people in his neighborhood, and people he meets when he travels. He connects with his subjects and has a real curiosity about their lives, which is evident in his depictions. Taylor’s attention to their individuality and his penchant for generous planes of vivid color with few painterly details make for compelling viewing. Who are these people? You want to know their stories, so you keep looking and imagining.


HENRY TAYLOR, “Not Yet Titled,” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 27 5/8 x 19 3/4 inches). | © Henry Taylor


In September, Taylor is introducing a new series of paintings at Blum & Poe gallery in New York. Titled “Niece Cousin Kin Look How Long It’s Been,” the exhibition presents a body of work that references America’s strident political climate and features portraits of people the artist encountered in Senegal, Spain, Paris, and New York.

Taylor depicts his subjects through a lens of authenticity. He talked about the people he paints with fellow Los Angeles-based artist Charles Gaines during a wide-ranging conversation published in his recent monograph “Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen.” At one point in the discussion, Gaines sought to understand how Taylor approaches his various subjects—ordinary people who reflect the artist’s lived experience.

    CHARLES GAINES: I was actually interested in how you regarded those two different kinds of subjects. Are they different to you, the skid row figure and the friend or relative? What is similar about both groups that makes them part of your oeuvre?

    HENRY TAYLOR: Sometimes I might paint a picture of a relative or a grandparent just because I’ve never seen their photo. The painting becomes the only visual record of their existence. Now I don’t want to say that I’m documenting even though there are some things that are more like documentation. I treat the painting like it’s a rare photograph; it has meaning beyond being a document. I never met my grandfather who was shot and killed. I have this photograph of him that I wanted to paint. It was maybe important to me because…because it was rare. If I use a camera to photograph a person on skid row, sometimes I’d say like, “Oh wow!” There’s certain things in the image that I connect with. If it’s a relative, well of course I think it’s a little more sentimental. I was gonna say special. I might say, “This is my grandma, the lady my mom talked about who I never met.” That might provoke me to an even deeper level.

    CHARLES GAINES: Maybe it has to do with something you said earlier about truth, that no matter what the subject is, somehow you perceive in that subject a truth that needs to be told, whether the person is a relative or drug addict or whatever the circumstances.

    HENRY TAYLOR: What I know to be the truth. …When you see the truth of the person, it’s gonna take you to another level. CT


“Henry Taylor: NIECE COUSIN KIN LOOK HOW LONG IT’S BEEN” is on view at Blum & Poe, New York, Sept. 24-Nov. 2, 2019


“Henry Taylor” is the first major monograph to survey the Los Angeles artist’s practice. The hefty volume features essays by Zadie Smith and Sarah Lewis, a profile by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, and a conversation with Taylor conducted by fellow Los Angeles artist Charles Gaines. An earlier publication also titled “Henry Taylor,” documents his MoMA PS1 exhibition.


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.