Studio Visit: Mike Taylor

Earlier this month, I went to visit Mike Taylor’s studio in Brooklyn with curator and artist Aimee Lusty. Featured on Make Space a couple of years back, Aimee’s curatorial practice includes running the exhibition program at Booklyn Artists Alliance in Greenpoint. (Look out for my studio visit with Aimee in the near future!) Aimee has previously exhibited Mike Taylor’s work and is working with him on his upcoming solo exhibition NO/FUTURE at Booklyn. (Opening Saturday, Jan 18th, 2014 at 7pm—Facebook event) It seemed like a great opportunity to bring Aimee along and have a conversation about Mike’s new exhibition. After a fifteen-minute walk from Aimee’s home, we arrived at Mike’s apartment where his studio is located.

For Aimee, this is the first of a series of solo exhibitions at Booklyn that examine the work of underrepresented, prolific artists, such as Mike Taylor. Rather than developing a conceptual framework for him to work within, Aimee allowed Mike to exhibit anything he wanted, with the requirement that he would produce at least two new editions. With this opportunity, in a very short amount of time he created a new body of work that explores generational identity and our selective cultural memory through a narrative that intertwines rock ‘n’ roll and politics, amending the established story told through popular culture.

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Mike explained the concept for the show while showing us an edition of his large, screen printed artist’s book, which is one of three different artist’s book editions exclusively made for the exhibition. His book and narrative begins with placing Bill Clinton, the first baby boomer president, in random situations, for example as the first grunge president. Also incorporated into the story are the characters from the Wizard of Oz, who have heroic deficiencies, such as lacking a heart or a brain, and serve as cultural analogs. One print in his other artist’s book portrays the Cowardly Lion during a VH1 “Behind the Music” interview talking about how faking cowardliness got him laid throughout the years. Mike uses these characters in this instance to emphasize the arrogance 1960s musicians have about their careers. He also examines our culture’s obsession with Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Sex Pistols. Mike’s prints, paintings, drawings, and artist’s books, all operate within this nonlinear absurd, humorous, and contemplative narrative.

From making zines to paintings, Mike’s practice consists of working in a variety of media and mediums for over twenty years. Taking up a third of his apartment, Mike’s studio consists of a wall-sized shelving unit filled with records, an adjacent studio wall where his most recent paintings and drawings hang, and a large working table set up for screen printing. He also has access to an exposure unit for his screens in the basement of his building.

When talking about his process during the visit, he explained that his goal is to diminish the space between painting and screen printing. The stencils he makes for his screens are all free-handedly drawn and painted on acetate, creating fluid and surreal line work for each of his images. Particularly for this body of work, the presence the hand is critical to its reading. The use of text is present in many of his pieces, which not only adds to the concept but through its strategic placement acts as a guide to exploring each piece visually. The work for NO/FUTURE contains pieces that range in color, from black ink drawings to screenprints with calculated, bizarre colors. The intricacies of Mike’s compositions through line, text, and color enable the viewer to closely study each piece and develop their own interpretation. Yet, when experienced together these works create a cadence or a rhythm to his narrative, clearly projecting his point while expanding the room for further investigation.

Mike Taylor’s new work succinctly analyzes our culture’s relationship with these public figures, whether politicians or musicians, which become personas, objects, images, and eventually myth through their celebrity. The undertones of the work challenge the grasp of manufactured culture and its effect on the vast amounts of creativity happening in its periphery, which is often forgotten.

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“Who’s memories become historical memory? How did the 1960s become The Sixties we are mandated to remember, bookended by the appearance of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and the Manson Family murders? How is Bill Clinton a rock ‘n’ roll president presiding over a nation of apparently self-involved slackers who ended the ‘90s with a full scale uprising against unregulated “free” trade in Seattle? What aspects of your life and culture right now will be nullified by popular history?
Flowers in the dustbin?
No Future For You?”
– Mike Taylor