Bryan Mark Taylor | A Symphony of Color & Light

By Gussie Fauntleroy

Bryan Mark Taylor is 33, has the energy of a 13-year-old, talks like a wise old man, and paints like he’s been doing it all his life—which he almost has. It’s a combination that is garnering growing recognition for his work from colleagues and collectors, and adding greater meaning and activity to an already full life.

Driving With Your Lights On, oil, 24 x 18

Among other recent honors, the San Francisco artist earned best of show at two California plein-air events, won second place and emerging artist awards at another, was included in the Paint the Parks national traveling exhibition, and was juried into the Salon International show at Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art in San Antonio, TX. Taylor’s achievements, particularly in the realm of plein-air painting, reflect the rush of enthusiasm he experiences when painting outdoors with fellow artists. Back in the studio of the home he shares with his wife, Haley, and their two children, he frequently enjoys the company of his 1-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. The artist clearly thrives on being busy, or “engaged at all levels,” as he says with a warm smile.

Out the studio windows, the lush foliage of oak trees belies the fact that within minutes he can take mass transit into the heart of the city, where he teaches graduate students at the Academy of Art University. When he’s not painting, teaching, taking in concerts and museums, traveling with the family, swimming, hiking, fishing, or backpacking,

Taylor is active in his church, where he often presents motivational talks to youth. So when he packs up his paints and heads out alone to create oil sketches on the hilly San Francisco streets or along the Pacific coastline, it is an opportunity to shed distractions and become more single-minded for a time. “I can distance myself from all the things going on around me, all the time constraints and deadlines,” he observes. “I feel that all melt away.”

What emerges during these periods of intensely focused observation and painting is a feeling of reverence for the landscape and for the beauty that can be perceived even amidst the chaos and noise of the city. “It’s there if you choose to see it,” the artist affirms. “There are all these buildings and all these people with competing egos, but it can all come together in a fascinating and beautiful whole.”

Taylor comes from farming families on both sides. His father, raised on an Idaho potato farm, moved his family from Portland, OR, to just north of Salt Lake City, UT, when Bryan was a year old. His father chose Utah to finish his medical residency but also for easy access to skiing, fishing, and hiking. Growing up, Bryan inherited his father’s love of the outdoors. He also inherited an affinity for pastoral landscapes.

FARMS AND THEIR FIELDS, a painting Taylor describes as “classic American farmland,” depicts a region in northern Utah near the Idaho border that holds special significance for the artist. When Bryan was 8, he and his father were driving through that farmland, returning from a fishing trip in Idaho. His father, a highly goal-oriented person, turned to his son and asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without hesitation the boy replied, “An artist.”

Taylor can’t say just what inspired such early certainty in a path for which he had no real role model, although being one of a handful of kids selected for special drawing sessions in elementary school no doubt had an impact. “I just knew I loved it,” he recalls. “It’s hard to explain—there was just a magic to it.” And, he quips, “Bob Ross wasn’t cutting it anymore!” referring to the host of the popular painting show on public television.

Taylor’s father was at first taken aback by his son’s seemingly sudden fascination with art. Actually, Taylor had been drawing all along. But as one of eight children, his low-key activity had passed under the radar of his father’s attention. Discovering his son’s interest, Bryan’s father sought out art classes for him in Salt Lake City, which Bryan pursued through high school. That led to a bachelor’s degree in visual arts from Brigham Young University—and to a period of frustration with the contemporary art world.

At the time Taylor attended BYU, a major focus of the school’s art department was post-modern, conceptual, and installation art, which was far removed from the classical academic training in drawing and painting that interested Taylor. In fairness to the university, however, he adds that the experience did teach him the difference between fine art and commercial kitsch. “An important part of what I learned is that I wanted to do something that went beyond the surface of just pretty.”

Then a friend suggested that Taylor take a look at a book by acclaimed painter Richard Schmid. It was an eye-opener, he acknowledges: “I realized, hey, there’s this whole world out there!” Discovering successful, masterful representational artists in today’s world led Taylor to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art University, where in 2005 he earned a master’s degree in fine arts.

Old Town Sunset, oil, 16 x 20

Taylor found that the climate and quality of light of the Bay Area reminded him of Italy. As a teen, he had spent two years there doing missionary work, and today Italy remains one of his favorite places to paint. OLD TOWN SUNSET resulted from one such visit. While his children played nearby, he captured the scene in an oil sketch, which he later used to create a studio painting. The view is from a hill overlooking the ancient Tuscan city of Cortona, set among a patchwork of farmlands and fields. It is the kind of visually complex image that challenges and inspires Taylor with its almost overwhelming patterns of colors, movement, and shapes. Identifying the most compelling and important elements in a scene, he then reassembles them in a form that makes visual sense.

“It’s a little like the way a musician might go into a forest and hear the animals making different sounds. He’ll take a piece from here and there and make a symphony,” Taylor explains. “He pulls together the threads that create harmony and rhythm. What I do involves realism and light, but also just that pure exhilaration of creating those kinds of harmonies.”

In fact, Taylor sees visual harmony as a reflection of the sacred that lies behind the beauty in each landscape he paints. Illuminated by clear sunlight and dancing with color, even busy city streets can convey a sense of “reverence, respect, and gratitude for the things God has created,” he notes. Which is why he believes post-modernism was not a good fit for his personal aesthetic and religious sensibility. Describing himself as a lifelong natural peacemaker with no desire to create imagery of dissonance or pain, he asserts, “There’s a much greater need to make the world a better place.”

On the artist’s easel at the moment is a farm scene in progress. As bursts of creative energy propel him, however, he rotates between multiple paintings. “I like to bounce back and forth,” he smiles. Waiting their turn against the studio walls are more farmland images, Italian landscapes, cityscapes, and seascapes from along the California coast. As he begins a painting, he works quickly, allowing the focused intensity of his brush strokes to physically convey the power of his feelings and the mood of a piece. Later he shifts gears, moving at a slower pace to access a more subtle sensitivity in rendering the suggestion of detail.

Taylor approaches painting with a combination of traditional techniques and personal innovation, such as the low toxicity level he strives for in his studio. Because his children spend a lot of time there, he does not use paints that contain cadmium, and he has developed a method of painting without turpentine, instead using just pure pigments on canvas. The result is a highly textural surface quality that accentuates the hand of the artist. “I may be a little old-fashioned,” he muses. “I like the fact that you can see that a human hand touched and made the painting. There’s an Old World care to it.”

These qualities are especially evident in works such as COASTAL LIGHT, a seascape of a rocky shoreline with a veil of fog. The painting’s soft lighting contrasted with the energy of the churning surf is a metaphor for the necessary balance in life.

“That harmony is there, and it touches me as deeply as anything I know. It’s the fabric of my faith,” he reflects. “It drives the choices of what I paint. I listen to what I’m feeling inside telling me: This is what you need to paint. So I go with that.”

Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art, San Antonio, TX; James J. Rieser Fine Art, Carmel, CA; Elliott Fouts Gallery, Sacramento, CA; Lovetts Gallery, Tulsa, OK; Tomales Fine Art, Tomales, CA; Holton Studio Gallery, Emeryville, CA; Williams Fine Art, Salt Lake City, UT;

Solo show, Elliott Fouts Gallery, through September.
San Luis Obispo Plein Air Festival, San Luis Obispo, CA, September 28-October 3.
Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational, Laguna Beach, CA, October 10-17.
Three-person show, Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art, November 5-28.

Featured in September 2010