John Dorroh: George Taylor, a portrait of passion

January 30, 2010 11:32:00 PM

John Dorroh - [email protected]


Since the early 1980s I have been passionate about racquetball, playing the fast-paced game four to six times a week. I also taught high school science with passion for almost 30 years. I honestly thought I understood what the concept "passion" entailed. Maybe I didn''t. 


In October I ventured to Northport, Ala., to see what was going on at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, an annual two-day conclave of artists whose work is top-notch. I had never been and had more time than money that day, seeing several pieces of art I would like to have taken home. 


One such artist whose work caught my eye was George Taylor. I liked his autumnal landscapes, peppered with colorful hay bales and browning fields of cotton and corn. He invited me to have a seat and talk with him about his art. I was polite, not staying too long so that he could concentrate on making sales. 


I asked if I could job shadow him someday, pick his brain and find out about the business side of being an artist. 




The day arrives 


Recently I spent a morning with Taylor in his Montgomery, Ala., studio, which houses no fewer than 100 of his paintings, in all shapes and sizes. It was a cacophony of color and personal history. 


We spent the afternoon on the side of a cypress swamp along Highway 80, braving the cold in order to meet a deadline for a commissioned painting for an individual in Nashville, Tenn. I learned about another aspect of passion. 


The surprising twist to Taylor''s own portrait is that he prepared for a career in accounting, and was, as a matter of fact, employed as an accountant for an establishment in Birmingham, Ala. That didn''t last long. 


"I felt I was losing my soul," said Taylor. 


To the surprise of his co-workers, friends, and family, he gave up a handsome income in order to follow his heart, his passion: painting. That takes guts, and I admire people who do it. 




Family expectations 


Like so many parents, Taylor''s father, in particular, expected the three Taylor children to assume professional roles as he had. Taylor''s brother, an eye surgeon, certainly fit the bill, as did his sister, a copywriter in Nashville. Their father was a judge, and yes, Taylor himself blazed a path through academia, obtaining a degree in accounting. 


"It just didn''t work out for me," Taylor said. "... Yes, my dad was disappointed at first ... who wouldn''t be?" Life moves on though. 




Areas of exploration 


When I asked Taylor if he could remember the first picture he ever completed, he said, "No. I''ve always done it. My mom has a big drawer of my early drawings." 


So far there have been three areas of exploration in Taylor''s art. The first one is about movement. His early paintings reflected ample supplies of motion, movement, often tied in with themes from the natural world, sometime from the sports arena. 


As I picked his brain, Taylor began pulling out older canvases from his early career to show me what he meant. 


I saw cheerleaders at football games, where Taylor spent many a Friday night, sketching, filling in his "thought pad" with superimposed images, giving the impression of true movement. Bodies spinning, gyrating, leaving virtual after-images on the canvas. 


He showed me a tree, one blowing in the wind, and I could feel the power lifting the branches, thick with greenery. It was evidence that we live our lives with natural forces beyond our control. 


A second area of exploration is animal camouflage. Patterns in the scales of fish and turtles, cheetahs, lions, and tigers, oh my. Taylor manages to blend these naturally-occurring patterns with man-made images that work pleasingly for the eye, at least for mine. 


"Nature has already done a perfect job," Taylor said. "I wanted to see if I could capture that." 


Another area, one that surprised me the most perhaps, is graffiti. We''ve all seen the art painted on the sly on the sides of city buildings and trains that pass us here in our routine train-traffic jams along Highway 182. It often becomes even more evident in large cities. 


Imagine that graffiti being transformed onto single canvases, where we expect to see "true art." 


"I was intrigued by the graffiti on the walls in Chelsea when I visited New York City," said Taylor. "At first, it was threatening to me ..."  


And then Taylor began to see the movement in the scenes, and it stuck with him until he could get home and experiment. 


"I wanted to find a way to integrate graffiti with Southern landscapes," he said. 


It seems to me that he has done that, too. 




Getting started/influences... 


Taylor is self-taught. He took an art elective in the 11th grade and a watercolor class in college. 


"The instructor gave me a C," he said, laughing, "and offered me some advice: ''Expand your color range.'' I took his advice ... 


"I like the works of Bonnard, whose use of colors, as opposed to values, was phenomenal," he said. "I also like the work of Edward Hopper, who painted a lot of landscapes." 


Among other artists he favors is Walter Anderson, whose gallery in Ocean Springs is fully operational after Hurricane Katrina. 


"I like the spirit of what Anderson accomplished," he said. "He created a certain gentility and never jammed his subjects together ... and he was a colorist," said Taylor. 




The business of being an artist  


When we hopped into Taylor''s vehicle, I noticed he grabbed a pad and logged the odometer reading. 


"Good boy," I jokingly said. "I need to do that, too." 


"Yep, I try to record every mile I drive to and from my paint sites, and all other associated expenses." 


I thought that might have been reflective of the accountant mindset, but it really is good ole common sense. 


"I''m a night person," he admitted. "I have a tendency to sleep in, and often I''m up into the wee hours, painting. ... There are at least 80 projects going on in my head." 


We had a nice lunch at an Indian buffet and then hit the road to the swamp along Highway 80. I could see the tire marks where he had previously parked. 


"I''m only about a third finished with this picture," he said, "and the Nashville reception is on the 22nd of this month." 


He set up his easel, using 20-pound weights to secure it, and began to fill in the empty space on his canvas with the grays, browns, blues and greens of a winter swamp. I asked if my talking was interfering with his concentration. He assured me that conversation was good. 


During the interview/painting session, drivers would occasionally honk their horns and wave. One driver yelled something ugly. I asked Taylor if he had ever felt threatened, painting on the side of a busy highway. 


"Not really," he said. "Mostly people are curious, and a few have stopped a couple of times to walk down the hill to see my progress." 


As the sun began to disappear behind the cypress trees, which were heavy with Spanish moss, the sun filtered through in long vertical slits. Gradually -- and eerily -- the colors changed. I asked how he would compensate for these changes in lighting. 


"This is where I have to dodge the truth a bit," he admitted. 


The temperature began to plummet at 4:30 p.m. Even though it had been a good day, I was sort of glad Taylor was calling it quits. 


"Let''s pack up and hit the road," he said. "I can come back tomorrow." 


Taylor''s web site is under construction. He can be reached at [email protected], or at 334-264-7041. I hope he will have an exhibit in the Golden Triangle in the near future.

John Dorroh is a semi-retired high school science teacher, who writes a business column for The Dispatch.