In most biographical accounts of the late Al Taylor his identification and origin as a painter, as opposed to a sculptor, is almost always noted. Also, and more pertinent to my interests, was his trip to Africa in 1980 where he became impressed with "making do with what is on hand." Upon returning to New York City and finding himself too poor to buy canvas, Taylor began the work he is most known for: Quirky and lyrical assemblages, or "constructions" made from found sticks, dowels, broom handles and other disregarded debris he could get his hands on.
Several works on view at Elizabeth Leach Gallery exemplify Taylor's particular aesthetic. In one Untitled piece from 1985, flat sticks of variously colored wood, along with a small yellow saw blade, extend from dowels that protrude from a small piece of plywood. Each found piece is composed to produce a loose circular motion that keeps the composition active and fluid. While each stick is composed to advance one's eye to the next, it is easy to fixate on how each element is put together. Taylor often employed a single found screw to attach one element to another, giving the work a unique fragility. One can mentally take apart everything Taylor himself did, which permits the compositions to feel almost effortless.
The piece by piece assemblage also allows each element of wood to carry its own distinct gesture, much like a bold mark made on paper. It is interesting to note that the many drawings he made, of which several fine examples are on display at ELG, were mostly done after the constructions. In this regard, the drawings represent more of an impression of the constructions seen in space. Shadows are created with every wall construction, as well as different compositions depending on where a viewer might be viewing the piece, creating a depth which is translated as atmospheric space with ink smears and washes in the drawings.
Despite the seemingly few ways to piece together sticks, over his career Taylor always seemed to create more. Each one as seemingly natural as the one before. I love the idea that economic pressure, i.e. no money for canvas or paint, created a distinct brand of art that was all his own. Judging by his recent resurgence (he had a solo show at Gagosian in NYC in 2008), there is little doubt he managed to embrace his economic constraints and turn them into a noteworthy career filled with immensely satisfying works.
"Al Taylor: Latin Studies" was on view June 3 - 26, 2010 at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.
All images are courtesy of Elizabeth Leach Gallery.