Chris Taylor: Trying to Draw Billabongs
Chris and I are both from Westfield, Massachusetts so I know something of what he saw as he grew up. We lived near Northampton, in the midst of the western Massachusetts alternative music scene, and both loved the music of Dinosaur Jr., Steve Westfield, Pangloss, Sebadoh, and others. This music was being made in the places we hung out in and was also being played on radio stations around the country. It was the first time in our small town that we could see real art being made by the people we knew, or at least people like the ones we knew. This time was crucial in allowing us to see what art could mean, as a form of escape, or as a way to express our feelings about the normalness of life in a former mill town.
Chris’s melancholic works draw their influences from much of this music but are most connected to that of Elliott Smith. As Chris says, “I am really influenced by Elliott Smith and not for the tragic aspect of his life, but for his melancholy. I love melancholy – its sorta my inner-life.” Chris’s art works are hybrids of written, confessional-like writings, and more formally aestheticized text art. His more narrative works move from top to bottom, left to right, and as the text progresses the stories feel as if they are about to reach a conclusion, often only to subvert themselves through a tragicomic self-reflection or mishap. They are humorous, poignant, complex, poetic, and tragic. Chris’s stories are distilled narratives about his life – his struggles to find meaning in the everyday, his love of family and the weight of responsibility, aging, his political views of privilege, inequality, guns, the art world, etc. His works seem to function diaristically for him, yet in their more formalized style are obviously rendered with planning, care and deliberate aesthetic intention.
Although we grew up in the same town, I didn’t actually meet Chris until a few years ago, when we were introduced by a mutual friend. I came with my family to Arizona, where Chris now lives, to co-curate an exhibition at the Hozhoni Art Foundation and gallery, which supports artists with disabilities, often Native American. I was immediately impressed by and excited to understand the ways in which art was very obviously fused with his life. Chris’s work is integrally attached to his psyche – he doesn’t make art as a job, but uses art in his life, as a way to understand his experiences, look back at his past, and then tell us what he finds meaningful (or not) in this reflection. In this way, his work relies less on western art historical hierarchies, and more on the people he has worked with, who also make art out of type of necessity. The artists at Hozhoni are immensely influential for Chris, and his relationships with them are symbiotic. And the time Chris spent studying abroad in Darwin, Australia, was powerfully formative as well, and very visible in his aesthetic style.
These external influences have shaped how Chris sees himself as an artist, but his understanding of his place in the world (his thoughts, feelings, etc.) is what forms the content of his rawly unconventionally works. Chris says in an email to me, “… so much of my work’s undercurrents are about me getting sober and my weird spirituality and how it is aligned with drawing and painting. And becoming a dad. That energy, lack of time, love, fear, happiness, anger. It’s all there and I process it in drawing.” What I have always found so powerful in looking at Chris’s drawings and paintings is how his works try to capture and freeze in time the fraught excitement of youth, through the eyes of an adult who is looking back, reflecting, in an attempt to understand what their life is about now. His works for me are like memories distilled into the words of someone displaced by time, always trying to understand what just happened, and to create a sense of order in his world.
There’s a broad melancholic undercurrent in all of Chris’s works, but I also see a thread of futility and helplessness, especially in his drawings. Through their stories and visual language, they feel as if some greater power (almost cosmic) is pulling the strings and Chris’s works are trying describe the feeling of this (a desire to recognize the feeling of purity experienced in youth). It’s not religious, per se, but spiritual in a larger sense. To engage this, Chris’s aesthetic delves into constellations of spacelessness and vast depth. His work’s opticality, pattern, bright colors, and sumptuous painterliness, translate the words and phrase he renders into complex mazes with myriad entry points. The sentences Chris paints suggest a beginning, but his visuals confound and complicate the usual ways we ‘read’ words in art. His texts melt into patterns, as the fragments of his letters mingle with dots and dashes of paint, ink, pencil, and charcoal. Words slip into other words as legibility always seems on the edge of slipping away.
This is all to give some foundation for Chris’s incredible body of works, made with extreme sincerity and seriousness. It’s not at all necessary to know this backstory as you look at his drawings and paintings. As you do, lose yourself in the pulsating patterns, fractured spaces, and scrawled letters. Lose yourself in Chris’s works in the way you lose yourself in your favorite song. Listen, look, let go, and forget.