Andy Taylor | Discovery of a Lifetime

Andy Taylor paints his journey through the Southwest

by Elizabeth L. Delaney

Andy Taylor, Parking Lot, oil, 25 x 49. Private collection.

Andy Taylor, Parking Lot, oil, 25 x 49. Private collection.

This story was featured in the January 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art January 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

“For me, painting is about exploration and discovery,” says Colorado artist Andy Taylor, “exploring different ways of seeing or different ways of expressing what I see, discovering what I want to paint, and discovering things as I paint.” Taylor has spent his adult life in search of intriguing outdoor scenes to translate into two dimensions, bringing concentrated segments of a vast landscape to life on paper and canvas. His work, largely characterized by layers of rich, translucent pigment, evokes the intrinsic beauty and unique spirit of the spaces he explores.

“I think the landscape works for me because I live in a pretty spectacular place and because I love the outdoors,” Taylor says. To that end, the artist channels his endeavors into his art, which echoes his aesthetic and emotional responses to the discoveries he makes. Loud or quiet, overt or elusive, they appear in the silvery, shimmering tree bark, fiery, sun-drenched mesas, and lush, verdant farmland of the American Southwest. It is a land that Taylor sought out and one that inspired him to pick up pencil and paintbrush to explore the external and internal forces around him.

Originally from West Chester, PA, Taylor was exposed to art tangentially throughout his childhood. He remembers, in particular, periodic family outings to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where perhaps a seed was planted in his young mind. Not until some years later, however, when he went out west to attend Colorado College in Colorado Springs, did Taylor fully realize his own love for painting and drawing. He began painting on his own, independent of formal instruction, and he knew from the outset it was something he wanted to pursue in earnest. “Once I started painting, I was hooked. There was no other alternative,” he says. Despite a schedule filled with classes in botany and history, he decided to add fine art into the mix. He approached his new field unconventionally, convincing his art professor to allow him to work outside of the curriculum, with only periodic oversight and advice.

Ultimately, Taylor graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, having largely taught himself painting technique, composition, and pictorial style. One nugget Taylor took from his professor, and has held onto over the years, was the benefit of carefully studying the work of other artists. He considers such observation important, not as a means to replicate another artist’s style, but as a launch pad of sorts, from which to expand, extrapolate, and build upon his own creative tenets. To that end, Taylor has studied elements of various artists’ work from across the canon, including Cézanne, Matisse, Richard Diebenkorn, Wolf Kahn, and Russell Chatham, among others.

Taylor made Colorado his permanent home after college, and today he lives in Carbondale, a small but growing town 170 miles west of Denver and 120 miles from the Utah border—a perfect location for him to continually survey the multifaceted natural landscape that has enthralled him since his youth. “I wouldn’t trade where I live for anywhere else,” he says of the region.

Taylor has painted for the duration of his adult life, and for more than three decades, he also managed a sod farm—a career that allowed him to spend his days out of doors for half the year and inside the studio for the remaining six months. Such an arrangement sustained him as both an outdoorsman and a painter. In 2014, he left the sod farm to paint full time, and he now devotes all his working hours to making art.

In addition to showing work in numerous gallery and museum exhibitions, Taylor has twice been the artist-in-residence at Rocky Mountain National Park and has lent work to the U.S. embassies in Kingston, Jamaica, and Nouakchott, Mauritania, as part of a State Department program.

Taylor paints the landscape by design, but he also appreciates a certain element of chance when it comes to his subject matter. “There is a lot out there to appreciate,” says the artist, “and a lot of it is just on the edge of the road.” He embraces the journey perhaps more than the anticipation or outcome, leaving himself open to the unexpected. “I suppose I want to show people, if anything, that with a little visual curiosity we can find beauty and interest all around us.”

Taylor’s process begins outdoors, where he finds the most profound connections to nature and art alike. Armed with his sketchbook, he walks, boats, and hikes throughout the area surrounding his home. Living on the Rocky Mountains’ Western Slope affords him a great variety of landscapes to explore, and he routinely visits the mesas, canyons, rivers, and forests all located within a day’s drive. In fact, most of Taylor’s paintings are based on scenes no more than 250 miles from his house, along a southwest-to-northeast arc.

Although he sets out to investigate and bond with his surroundings, Taylor doesn’t actively choose the scenes he wants to paint. Rather, he says, they choose him. Immersed in the terrain, he takes out his pencils and paper only when he experiences that “aha!” moment—one he describes as an emotional response free of cognition or intellect. While largely ephemeral, this instinctual feeling prompts a more grounded, cerebral reaction from the artist, and he begins to draw. “Frequently, I find the best drawings on the way to where I think I am going,” says Taylor, who remains open to all possibilities when in discovery mode.

Taylor confines all his plein-air work to drawing, preferring to save painting for the studio. He especially loves the process of drawing outdoors and the immediacy it affords him in capturing the subject matter. When he begins working in his studio, Taylor trades in his pens and pencils for paintbrushes and shifts to a more meticulous methodology as he carefully maps out the impending painting from the smaller work on paper. Once he has identified the critical points in the composition, he shifts back to an expressive, organic approach, letting the act of mark-making take over and listening to his intuition, as he did at the outset of the discovery process. While Taylor’s drawings act as the foundation for each painting, he neither edits them nor tries to directly replicate them on the canvas. “Once I get to the painting, it’s about making the painting,” he says.

Taylor considers his work as a subjective translation of what he sees and experiences in nature, as opposed to recording or preserving it line for line and shape for shape. He explains, “I’m not trying to capture the original thing I saw. The drawing is a translation of what I see, and then the painting becomes a translation of the drawing. The painting has its own life.” In that vein, each painting becomes an examination of the elements within the space, rather than a mirror image of it. Nature serves as the genesis of a larger, deeper creative, emotional, and intellectual realization.

Taylor paints in thin layers of pigment, both bold and diaphanous, that coalesce to harness the energy of place. Soft, nuanced brushwork builds up the highly contrasting and tonal hues to create depth and movement throughout the picture plane. Taylor paints edge-to-edge compositions, bringing a sense of freedom and spontaneity to each canvas, as the lines, shapes, and colors remain unbound, reaching outward and inviting viewers into their space.

Central to Taylor’s work is a fascination with color, which not only serves to define shapes and divide the space but also to enliven the work. “I am a sucker for color,” he says. “I love it—if I see it or feel it, I want to use it, push it, see how it works with other colors.” Taylor’s color schemes run the gamut from subtle, cool tones with warm bursts to bold, vibrant hues that saturate the entire composition. In all cases, the artist manipulates the paint to achieve the feeling specific to that canvas, and he often realizes the direction he wants to take only after he begins painting. “I start paintings with an idea or a goal of what I think that they should look like, but inevitably they evolve, frequently because of the color,” Taylor explains.

“I’m looking for an emotional response from the viewer,” Taylor remarks when asked what he tries to communicate with his art. For him, that spark of visceral, aesthetic pleasure—similar to what he feels when he discovers a scene to paint—defines the most important interaction a viewer can have with his work. “I want people to enjoy it for what they see,” he says. However, he realizes that what anyone gleans from a painting is subjective. “They may like it for totally different reasons…. I think that’s great.”

Though he continually hones his technique and cultivates a signature style, Taylor nonetheless continues to thrive on discovery through exploration. He likes to vary his work in terms of imagery, coloration, light, and other aesthetic considerations, both to challenge himself as a painter and to keep the work fresh and engaging for viewers. “There’s too much out there to do just one flavor,” he says.

A Gallery, Salt Lake City, UT; Ann Korologos Gallery, Basalt, CO.

This story was featured in the January 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art January 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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