Jersey City Painter Scott Taylor Discusses His Work, Painting Left Handed and More
The Miss America Diner, the sounds of George Jones and painting … welcome to the world of Jersey City painter Scott Taylor, whose work spans whiskey-soaked Americana to high European classicism. Taylor will have several paintings on view in the soon-to-open The Real LR Word, a group exhibit produced by Cottelston Advisors and curated by Omar Lopez-Chahoud at Ligne Roset.
Taylor, who was born in Arizona, grew up in North Carolina and bounced around Chapel Hill and Savannah before ending up in Jersey City. We recently caught up with him to learn more about his work.
You come from Tar Heel country. What brought you to Jersey City?
I was researching all graduate degree programs in the country and read that Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University was in the top 10 best MFA programs. I was accepted and moved to New Jersey in 2000. I have been living in Jersey City for the past 8 years.
When did you begin to paint and draw?
It began before my earliest memories. Apparently, my dad and I sat at the kitchen table and drew together when I was still a toddler. I started painting at the age of 16.
Let’s discuss a couple of your projects. What is the Claimed Master series, and why is it important?
The Claimed Masters series is based on a long history of artists reclaiming art historical images and re-interpreting the results. My project started with pages from a book called Great Prints and Printmakers from the 19th century with artists such as Boucher and Degas — I added my own drawing on top of the print, intentionally confusing the “master’s” hand and my own. Often the images were collaged from different pages and different artists.
What is the Left-Handed Drawing series?
The Left-Handed Drawing series began after I injured my right shoulder and I could not draw or paint with my hand without it hurting. So, I switched to my left hand, which is incredibly untrained and awkward. I started out by drawing images from my record collection and liked the quality of the drawing and the obvious distortions that emerged. Each drawing took a long time as if I were learning to draw again like when I was very young. About 20 of these drawings were exhibited at V&A Gallery in 2009.
The series depicts a range of American musicians — from Black Flag and Minor Threat to Johnny Cash and George Jones, from Louis Armstrong and Marvin Gaye to Mance Lipscomb and Madame Mame. Why did you choose this cast of characters, and what do they have to do with you and your practice?
The Left-Handed Drawing series also helped to form a self-portrait because I wanted to use my record collection to tell viewers about my tastes in music and also my background in North Carolina, for example depicting Reverend Gary Davis or Libba Cotton from the Piedmont area of North Carolina.
What are you working on now?
I am finishing a series titled The Rembrandt Self-Portraits that I have been working steadily on for the past year and a half. The project is ambitious because the paintings are large, 72 x 60 inches, all oil on canvas, and I have completed 17 of them.
In the work, I am using the iconic image of Rembrandt that we know of from his obsessive self-portraits to tell the story of the flawed artist that is doomed for failure much like his last self-portraits are understood. I also connect to his sympathetic view of the world, his humanistic portrayal of himself and his brutal honesty. In my series the subject is exaggerated with a large nose, ridiculous attire and fool-heartedness that turn him into a clown of sorts. Similar to the left-handed drawing series, my intent is to represent the self-portrait as a personal narrative.
The life of the artist is not necessary absurd and tragic but it can be lonely, financial insecure, and unglamorous. What motivates you to continue making art?
I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Yet, I’ve worked at museums and galleries, driven a truck and to do just about anything I can do to stay employed to pay my studio rent. Another artist said, “a painter paints what he wants to see,” so I suppose I am motivated by the satisfaction of making something that doesn’t exist yet.
You studied painting at Mason Gross and Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). What made you choose these institutions, and what did they teach you about painting and art?
I chose these schools mostly due to my financial situation. I didn’t apply to schools in New York such as Columbia or School of Visual Arts because I knew I would not be able to afford them. SCAD offered scholarships, Mason Gross was less expensive and offered teaching assistantships. The benefit of SCAD was that the instructors were young, energetic and from all over the nation. Often it was their first teaching job so they were super excited to teach painting, for example, and I learned all the essential basics. At Mason Gross, the advantage is that the school is in close proximity to NYC. As a student there, I realized that the art world is significantly larger and accelerated than I had imagined.
Today, many artists work in digital technologies, social media, film and video. Gerry Nichols, my painting professor in college, said to his students in 1994: painting is slow, anachronistic — bordering on obsolesce, and difficult. Scott, why do you continue to paint?
This question brings to mind the argument that was very prevalent in the 1970s to say that painting was dead. Today, I think we can look back at that argument and see that painting will always go in and out of style. In the 1990s, for example, painting emerged again as the dominant medium.
I paint because I love the act of painting and I also appreciate paintings from art history. I believe that paintings are a kind of signature record or fingerprint of the artist. Unlike mechanical reproduction, paintings can exhibit an intimate and personal tactile quality that other mediums cannot. For me, I love to get close to a painting and read the brushwork, see the varnish, the effort of applying paint and witnessing the struggle of creativity emerge as an intellectual pursuit in oil paint.
Let’s discuss looking at art in a museum. You walk into an art museum, what is the first thing you do, and why? Do you look for the wall text adjacent to the work? Do you use the audio support? Do you participate in a guided tour of the exhibition? Do you just look at the work, with your own eyes, and ruminate — or not? Is there a right way or wrong way to experience art?
In North Carolina, there weren’t many museums outside the state museum. I often traveled to D.C. to visit the art museums because it was reasonably close by. There, I spent time in the national wing and the Hirshhorn Museum educating myself of painting history and learning techniques by looking at the brushwork. I never use audio support or join tours. Most often, I walk through a museum very fast to get to a painting that I will spend time with. I often go back to the same painting over and over again. When I was a student at the Museum School in Boston, I went to the museum everyday and could get back to my studio while the image was still fresh in my mind. I still visit museums frequently and know their floor plans so that I can get in and out very quickly. This is my way of experiencing art but there is no right or wrong way.
Let’s focus on Jersey City. What is your favorite diner? Who has the best jukebox, and where can you find a decent cup of coffee?
Now for the important questions!
I live next door to Miss America Diner on West Side Avenue. I always wanted to be that character in the movies that goes to the diner next door and orders a coffee and apple pie slice. I don’t do it as often as I should. My favorite jukebox is at Magician in the Lower East Side in NYC. Often the bartender gives me a few bucks to keep it going. Beechwood on Grove Street has great coffee.
Scott Taylor, Reverend, graphite on colored paper, 18 x 12 inches, 2009
Scott Taylor, 400 Blows, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches, 2010
For more of Scott Taylor’s work, click here.
The opening reception of The Real LR Word is Thursday, July 15, from 7 to 9 pm. The exhibition will be on view to mid-August. Ligne Roset is located at 250 Park Avenue South in NYC.