THE WRITING AND THE ART featured in Henry Taylor’s first major monograph are just as striking as the vivid orange cloth cover in which it is bound. Los Angeles-based Taylor is known for his richly colored, bluesy approach to figuration. His subjects are rendered loosely and somewhat abstract.

He makes paintings of his friends, family members, and acquaintances. He also depicts historic and cultural figures such as Eldridge Cleaver, Alice Coachman, Jay Z, and Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis, envisioning the couple visiting the Obamas at the White House.

 


HENRY TAYLOR. “Zepher’s House,” 2008 (acrylic on canvas, 24 x 35 inches / 61 x 91.4 cm). | Collection of Eric and Liz Feder, Miami, Fla. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 

Artists are also his subjects. Taylor has documented David Hammons’s Bliz-aard Ball Sale, a work of performance art to which he added a hyena and Santa’s red fur-trimmed coat and flying reindeer-drawn sleigh.

Taylor has captured Noah Davis, Mickalene Thomas, and Deana Lawson. He painted Oscar Murillo’s family and made a “Portrait of Robert Pruitt While Visiting Autumn Knight” (2015). A 2014 portrait is titled “Simone Leigh’s daughter Zenobia.” Another, “Hamsa (‘smart’) Walker” (2016), depicts the Los Angeles-based curator. All of these paintings are featured in the book.

Lavishly illustrated with more than 200 images dating from 1990 to 2018, Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen is a visual feast and genuinely good read. The volume was among Culture Type’s Best Black Art Books of 2018.

Carefully curated essay contributions from Harvard University art historian Sarah Lewis and British author Zadie Smith; a feature profile by journalist and cultural critic Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah; and an interview conducted by fellow Los Angeles artist Charles Gaines, provide multiple ways to access Taylor and explore his work.

 


“Henry Taylor:The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen,” with contributions by Charles Gaines, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Sarah Lewis, and Zadie Smith (Rizzoli Electa, 320 pages). | Published Oct. 9, 2018

 

Ghansah’s profile offers a revealing look into Taylor’s world and was published in New York magazine in advance of the book’s release. Her careful observations are fascinating. She wrote in part:

    There is something unguarded about Henry Taylor. He reminds me of people I used to know. His way of being is all earnest. It is all homegrown. It is all real. For him, blackness is not an uneasy, overcompensating assertion, it isn’t the who’s-hot-and-who’s-not social jockeying of the art world, and it is completely bereft of any performative anger. Gone is all of the Talented Tenth’s navel-gazing over double consciousness. Blackness for Henry Taylor just is, much like whiteness for Fairfield Porter just is.

“For him, blackness is not an uneasy, overcompensating assertion,… Blackness for Henry Taylor just is, much like whiteness for Fairfield Porter just is.” — Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

    The work comes from where his eye falls. It comes from the people he knows and the people who have passed away. In his garage on the day that I visit is an eight-foot-tall portrait of a brother in a stocking cap flexing a bicep. His eyes menace and track the yard. “That’s the man who killed my cousin,” Taylor tells me. “I saw that picture of him online. I think he was just let out of prison, so he started posting pictures of himself. When I saw that one, I knew I had to paint it.” In Taylor’s office is another huge canvas, painted with a tableau from rural East Texas that shows the woman who raised his mother. “I’d never seen my mother weep like this before. We went to visit, and when this woman, Cousin Tip, stepped out on her porch, my mother fell down in that dirt and the tears just poured out of her.” On the floor is a self-portrait and its twin, a painting of a white woman with her legs crossed, smirking and holding a cigarette. A painting of his mother watches over the kitchen table. Over a stretch of sea blue and above a white stove, Taylor has painted the word cornbread and circled the letters “C, O, R, A,” Taylor’s mother’s first name. “That’s my mother,” he tells me blithely, and I take it in as if I were making the woman’s acquaintance in the flesh.

Taylor’s work has that kind of affect. Produced in 2008, his deconstructed kitchen scene with the word “cornbread” inscribed on the wall is meaningful and profound. His paintings of people are even more moving. CT

 


HENRY TAYLOR, “the dress, aint me,” 2011 (acrylic on canvas, 83.25 x 72 inches / 211.5 x 182.9 cm). | Private Collection. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 


HENRY TAYLOR, Hammons Meets a Hyena on Holiday,” 2016 (60 x 84 inches / 152.4 x 213.4 cm). | Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, N.C. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 


HENRY TAYLOR, “Cicely and Miles Visit the Obamas,” 2017 (acrylic on canvas, 84 x 72 inches, 213.4 x 182.9 cm). | Kravis Collection. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 


HENRY TAYLOR, “Watch your back,” 2013 (acrylic on canvas, 87.5 x 77.5 inches, 222.3 x 196.9 cm). | Collection of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 


HENRY TAYLOR, “Split,” 2013 (acrylic and charcoal on canvas, Two parts: 72 x 60 inches, each / 182.9 x 152.4 cm; 72 x 121.5 inches overall /365.8 x 308.6 cm). | Collection of Bernard I. Lumpkin and Carmine D. Boccuzzi. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 


HENRY TAYLOR, “Before Gerhard Richter there was Cassi,” 2017 (84 x 66 inches / 213.4 x 167.6 cm). | Private Collection. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 


HENRY TAYLOR, “Cora’s,” 2016 (acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 72 x 60 inches / 182.9 x 152.4 cm). | Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Texas. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 


HENRY TAYLOR, “Gettin it Done,” 2016 (acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96 inches / 182.9 x 243.8 cm). | Collection of Hudgins Family, New York, N.Y. © Henry Taylor, Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe via Rizzoli Electa

 

BOOKSHELF
An earlier publication titled simply “Henry Taylor,” documents the artist’s MoMA PS1 exhibition in New York. Taylor was in residence at the museum, where he produced the paintings featured in the 2012 show.

 

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