While South African artist Michael Taylor was studying picture book art and editorial illustration, the literal size confines of the medium proved too small for the narratives he was looking to deploy.
Naturally moving onto canvases from his sketchbooks, the tools he was initially using – “gouache and pencil were my go-to mediums” – stayed in hand despite the larger surface area sitting in front of him. The result is a body of work utilising the “immediate nature” of illustrative mediums but atop a canvas. For the artist this hybrid of approaches gives “that sense of directness and effortlessness” as he puts it, and is what “describes the essence of drawing to me” and, “must be present in the work.”
What Michael displays with this now-specialised technique is a collection of characters who surround him, a group which are “always a troop of actors, with the right outfit and attitude to perform an idea,” he tells It’s Nice That. This group are particularly prominent in a series of Michael’s from 2018, Boy. Boat. Bat, exhibited at Whatiftheworld Gallery in Cape Town. A mixture of both characterful figures, juxtaposed with scenic paintings and put together as sculptures, the title of the series references the components of Michael’s practice, as well as the works.
The “Boys”, as writer Lindsey Raymond describes on Michael’s website, are the literal figures the artist has drawn, his “troupe of pirouetting males” representative of “his experience of the gay community or ‘tribe’, presented as an iteration of dandyism and flamboyant gesture”. Second comes the “Boat”, a descriptive way of referencing the landscape paintings which act as both backgrounds for certain pieces, such as Tricky Fingers and Proud to Poodle, and pieces in their own right, as seen in Stormy Affair and Holiday is Pudding. Finally, we have “Bat” which references the narrative weaving together of the works, one Lindsey describes as “a fictional one, and importantly, that of an outsider. Humour and satire are used in the staging of the compositions and propositions of paintings, while the theatrics of display mimic the theatre as a home of the absurd and exaggerated."
More direct characters can also be seen in a recent series of Michael’s, Boys on the Side, made during 2019. Again piecing together his own narrative, but this time from “a miscellaneous pool of source material”, the series displays a collection of painted figures which are both “existing people, archetypes, and fantasies: Golden Boys of our dreams and our realities.” Describing his characterful creations, the artist tells us: “It took a long time for me to become comfortable with the idea of drawing characters, and faces, and expressions,” a surprising detail when you realise how much they fill his works. But, as Michael rightfully points out: “I always thought I’d be giving too much away portraying a very specific personality. And I was concerned that my work would be too illustrative or removed from reality because I work from memory.”
However soon, the artist realised “that is exactly what I enjoy about making art”, especially the ability to craft a character and control their stories to represent his own feelings, but hopefully start a conversation with a viewer too.
On how he hopes audience’s react to his works, Michael concludes: “I think on a number of levels that it’s easy for someone to identify with aspects of my work,” he explains. “For most people there’s an entry point to the image – be it by way of a title, the suggested narrative, or the idea of a character or scene that is depicted.”
Michael Taylor: Underwater Pyjama Party
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.