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How Henry Taylor's Profound Paintings Of Black Art Capture Truth, Light And Power

"Taylor’s journey is a testament to the success and love that comes from owning who you are."

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Downtown Los Angeles isn’t like other downtown neighborhoods. In between the homeless haven of skid row, the dusty fabric shops in the garment district and the influx of condo construction, there’s a blossoming arts district where artists and patrons can mingle in an anti-Hollywood cultural hub.

It is also the place where visual artist Henry Taylor works as a painter, inspired by the scenes from everyday life — the good, the bad and the ugly. On May 12, 2018, the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (ICA LA) hosted a benefit brunch honoring Taylor for his achievements, roughly 10 years after giving him his first west coast museum exhibition at their former space, previously known as the Santa Monica Museum of Art. During the time between, Taylor has grown exponentially with solo shows in museums and galleries all over the world, and many collectors have multiple pieces of his work and consider him to be a friend. 

Interestingly, long before Taylor became an artist, he worked as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital in Southern California. Instead of rubbing elbows with fancy patrons of the arts, he helped people battling with crippling mental illness. Perhaps this experience planted the seeds of Taylor’s attraction to the raw and flawed human condition in his art, a condition that many of us would prefer not to see or cannot fully appreciate.

Henry Taylor, 'Split', 2013
Henry Taylor, 'Split', 2013

Taylor is not a new breakout star. He didn’t rise to fame from the internet and social media like many young artists are able to do now. Instead, he worked consistently at his craft building his legacy along the way. During my first encounter with him, his demeanor reminded me of a cool uncle that would let you drink a beer or tell you a dirty joke at the family bbq, someone with a years worth of colorful experiences who isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself and yet is no fool. A portly man with a husky voice that gets high pitched when talking about something sentimental like his deceased mother and the art work he made inspired by her. He embodies wisdom and true freedom of expression, a refreshing site in today’s America. Taylor is also an artist whose age and experiences transcends all generations and backgrounds. With work ranging from political expression and social commentary to portraits of loved ones and strangers, Taylor has a range and fluidity that knows no limits. Every painting has a story to it and his entertaining recollection of events surrounding the making of each portrait or other work adds another layer of intrigue and to the work.

Henry Taylor ‘Zepher’s House’, 2008
Henry Taylor ‘Zepher’s House’, 2008

The grand gesture of organizing a brunch to benefit Taylor and his achievements is not only a demonstration of how much ICA LA and the host committees value Taylor and his work, it is also a symbol of the importance of giving our living and legendary artists the respect and platform they deserve. 10 years ago, Taylor may not have imagined that his work would have taken him this far, but as ICA LA director Elsa Longhauser pointed out during a visit to Taylor’s studio, "He’s a rockstar.” So, how can you expect anything less?

Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

Taylor set up shop downtown when it wasn’t the cool place to be. He walked streets befriending homeless people when no cameras were watching. He helped others and captured their truth and light in his paintings for years, and now he is the gracious recipient of well-deserved attention and support from collectors and arts institutions. Taylor’s journey is a testament to the success and love that comes from owning who you are. In his 30s, he changed careers and sought out the mentors and support needed to push him in field of art, and he hasn’t stopped since. This is an important lesson for anyone who is considering taking a new direction or investing in their passion. At any stage in your life, when you’re ready to walk in your truth and live in your purpose, the canvas and paint are there waiting for you to tell your story.

Henry Taylor
Henry Taylor

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Dominique Clayton is a writer, art gallery owner, and lover of art and indie film. When she's not busy working and raising her three daughters, you can find her art events and openings around Los Angeles.