Bryan Mark Taylor: “…when I feel the Spirit I sit down and paint.”

1.28.10 | | 6 comments

IMG_0376

.

My wife is the bulletin-sculptor in our ward, and I help out by meeting the bishop’s request that each speaker have a short bio written about them. It was in this pursuit that I learned the reason our high counselor has such frabjous hair: He is a painter.
.
With what I learned in writing the bio and the notes I took during his talk (this was all last March), I fully intended to interview Brother Taylor and post it here, but one thing led to seventy others and I never got around to it. Until now. (More details on how it finally happened (slash-disclaimer) are available at Thutopia.)
.
All images are from http://bryanmarktaylor.blogspot.com/, courtesy of the artist. Click on any image to visit that site where the images are available at a much higher resolution.
.
view-of-the-valley
.
So the first thing that I think I need to ask you is just to have you tell me about about plein air because that is your thing and I didn’t know what it was before I wrote your bio back in March so tell us all about plein air first of all.
.
Plein air is French for “open air” meaning the outdoors. And, basically, for a landscape painter, going out and conversing with nature directly. It’s really the only way to get a feeling for light, the color, the air quality there are just so many aspects of nature that can only be captured by being out there and painting directly from the light. And so plein air is an artist that goes out regularly and studies nature directly and all the different things going on in the landscape. It’s something that was popularized by the French Impressionists you know like MonetCézannePissarroSisley—they were really the ones that put it on the map artistically, but it’s certainly has had a tradition since then that has evolved quite a bit. They went out and really studied it. One of the things that enabled artists to go outdoors and maybe why they didn’t do it earlier than that was because it’s so cumbersome to carry the paints out and so invention of the paint tube was actually pivotal in allowing artists to go out in the landscape and paint. They used to use pigs bladder to keep their paint, you know, just carrying a bunch of pig bladders around was the best way to go out there but once the paint tube was invented that really helped. And there’s a lot of different gear that was developed at that time. One thing is called a pochade box which is still used today in various forms, and also French easel—French field easel—the design hasn’t changed much since the late Nineteenth Century, although when I do go out I have a  modernized version easel that sits on a camera tripod, which is much sturdier, lighter weight, and allows me to go backpacking with it.

.

So is that your own innovation?

.

No, it’s a company that makes them now up in Wyoming and there are a few mom and pop shops that will make these kinds of things and it’s become a little bit more popular for even those who are considered “Sunday painters,” hobbyists, who like to go out and do this and I teach workshops, like three-day workshops where we go out, my students go out with me and we paint for three days in location so a lot of sales for some of these easels are from a lot of students wanting to do it.

.

On-the-Way-to-Giverny

.

When you spoke at our ward back in March, you said, “I go out and when I feel the Spirit I sit down and paint.”  I wonder if you would comment on that.

.

One of the feelings of the spirit is the peace, the feeling of peace or joy and I think that’s in Galatians, talks about the fruits of the spirit. A lot of artists may not describe it that way—I do because I feel like as members of the Church we have an understanding of the Spirit and how it works and and I’ve recognized as I’ve been out and I have that kind of feeling of intense joy or peace or you feel like your spirit is animated and that’s when I get that desire to want to record it or try and make something of it. It’s almost like you see it before it –I see a scene and then I have just this incredible emotion about it and this emotion carries me through as I have to work and solve all the problems to make the image come to pass. But it’s that spark, that elated feeling that carries me through the process.

.

And  you do the whole thing on site?

.

Yes.

.

So how long does it usually take you to do one?

.

A painting that I’m doing on location— I also do paint in the studio; I do paintings that are a little more involved that I use my studies for and that takes longer time, but the studies that I do on location, the smaller paintings, they take roughly three hours to paint.

.

mountainsmall

.

Going back to the spiritual thing, in the article about you in the Fine Art Connoisseur it talked about how traditionally American landscape artists talked about the spiritual dimensions about the art form and then it says, “In today’s secularized art world, many opinion leaders find such views disconcerting,” and then it talks about how your are sort of an inheritor of that tradition, but it also gives distinct impression that perhaps you are out of step of with your contemporaries and in looking at this as a spiritual activity, painting.

.

Yes. Definitely an old-fashioned notion that I’ve even seen a spiritual dimension to it. A lot of landscape painters today do have some sort of, I don’t know if you can even say spiritual connection to it. It’s maybe an awareness or an environmental awareness or a humanistic approach to it where you feel like you are a steward of the earth and it’s all we got. But for me to fully express myself, or express myself in a way that I believe that God is attached to it, really isn’t in the art-world notion that is looked at with any degree of seriousness. The current trend today is more of an atheistic approach to reality and psychology and the human spirit.

.

I get the impression though that you are respected in your field? That’s a safe statement, right?

.

Yeah, as a landscape painter. Certainly I’m on the younger end of things so I don’t take myself too seriously. They say that painters come into their own when they are 60 years old

.

So you have some time.

.

Yeah.

.

But so the spiritual thing hasn’t kept you out of the club really.

.

No it’s probably just—in certain respects it can be ignored. So I feel that regardless of how it is viewed, I believe it is true and current trends aside I think eventually the truth will triumph and it may not be fashionable in this century but, as time passes things change. I think those things that have always been true will again ring true.

.

Evening-at-Pont-Royal-and-the-Louvre

.

Speaking of the passage of time, my own eye for landscape I don’t think is particularly refined, so I can see things I like but, unlike other realms of the visual arts and other arts, I can’t really explain why I like something or why I don’t, and so I don’t know if I am good at distinguishing something that is competent from something that is really and truly excellent and I’m just curious how does one make that distinction with a landscape? What separates the great and the good?

.

That’s a great question. First of all it’s easier to show it then to talk about it but there are things that, at least in the type of work that I am about. A lot of it has to do with the, first of all the original concept—kind of the idea—are you treating the subject that is maybe just pretty for its own sake, maybe a postcard-kind of a view—or are you taking something that could be more, what you would call regular or just mundane and transforming it into something—or trying to convey to the viewer something that is quite extraordinary. I believe the latter is more the subject of a great piece of art where you take something that’s ordinary and make it extraordinary, by the way you’re bringing things out. And so a lot of it has to do with the way you are designing things, the way you’re cropping it, the colors that you’re bringing out. A lot of it has to do with the designing of each of the shapes and how they are related to each other—every stroke on the canvas has to relate to the other strokes, and the artist’s ability to make those relationships work where nothing feels out of place, everything adds to the whole, which makes a great landscape.

.

One of the challenges of a landscape painter is that you have so much information out there—take a tree and all the leaves, the branches—and basically you can tell how competent an artist is by how they treat complex objects like that. How they are able to suggest, the form, the movement the light, the character of the texture, the weight of the branches and the strength of the trunk—all that is conveyed in strokes—does it look labored or does it look fresh and almost effortless; even if it does take a lot of effort you want to give it a feeling of effortlessness. Those are some of the things that I look at with a landscape painting: Does it have that labored feeling to it or that feeling of confidence that the artist knows where they’re going with it.

.

Among the Strawberry Fields

.

And I assume the same sort of rules apply when you’re doing a cityscape as well?

.

Yes. Yeah, definitely because it’s not just a matter of You Want to Make this Car or this Building Look Real—or however you want it to look—but how does this car or building or whatever it is relate to all the other buildings cars people and whatever. So the subject is really just the means of expressing an idea and that idea comes in a lot of abstract ways of colors and tones  and shapes. So I rarely look at a subject and think of it as a car or a tree or a building, a cloud, sky—I just look at relationships, I look at how does this white object relate to this green one over here or how do these textures, this rough texture relate to this smooth passage. That’s more what I’m looking at. And then you step back and it comes together as a painting. But for me it’s more these abstract portions that really become the most beautiful part of the piece.

.

looking down Paru st.

.

I want to ask you about something, I just read this today and it reminds me in some ways of the things you’re saying but it’s quite different and the reason I’m talking to you about it is because I just read it today and I haven’t decided what I think about it yet.

.

Okay.

.

So I’m just going to ask you what you think. This is from a man named J.F. Powers  who wrote fiction in the last century and he said this, “There is a common quality in all art; in a sense that really good paintings, sculpture, music, writing have. I can’t name it. It has something to do with God-given spirit, going beyond oneself. I think it’s possible to write something, for me to write something, that even God might like. It’s possible for me to hit a note, to get in a mood, to write something that is worthy even of God’s attention. Not as a soul seeking salvation, but just as entertainment for God. This may be blasphemous to say, but I believe it. I don’t think God is there and we’re here, and there are no connections. I think there are connections, and I think art is certainly one. “

.

Well, I one thing that—I got together with a couple of friends that are LDS and we talked a lot about what art was or trying to define it. One thing that I shared myself, is that art can be something that reminds us of life before this one. And how it was and is our desire here on earth to want to be there again. And as I think of it in that context, I think it’s—what we’re talking about is God’s home or where he dwells and I certainly think that the greatest art, that work that is truly inspired, does please Him and that he is in fact as is interested as w as parents would be interested in seeing our child do something quite amazing even if we, you know, the little drawings we put on the refrigerator, there’s a certain delight to it and I think he would feel a bit of that as well as he sees us progressing. And certainly one of his titles is Creator and he spent a lot of time making creatures and you kind of wonder why they’re there and he has a sense of humor and he enjoys having a lot of variety. Study the coral reefs or the various plants—poison-dart frogs—it’s amazing what he’s put together just for the joy of it.

.

You know, as I experience those feelings that I talked to you about, a feeling of joy, I believe it does come from him and I believe that he in some measure feels that as well as we feel it. If he feels our pain and our sorrows then I think he feels that joy too.

.

Setting Sun, Cold Coast Breeze

.
You mentioned you were talking to some LDS friends about art and that raises a question I am curious about: what connection do you have with the Mormon arts community?

.
I don’t have necessarily a—let’s see—a big influence or a big connection with the LDS arts community per se. And part of it is because, although I have a lot of friends that enjoy a lot of work from artists that do, I’m not necessarily a big part of that community because my work is not necessarily considered overtly religious. Although I feel it is very religious. Personally I’m not necessarily trying to cater to the religious market or Mormon market. I’m kind of more feel that I—maybe the mission field of art? Maybe that’s a bit idealistic.

.

Well, you do teach in San Francisco, so . . . .

.

Right. That’s right. So as far as—you know, I feel like I could have a better impact being out there in kind of the world; it’s more—you know, maybe my work, the spirituality and those kinds of things are a little more hidden, but they’re still there, but it’s just not my intent to—at least not at this time in my life—to try and make a splash into the Mormon community.

.

Although I would at some point I would like to do the murals for a temple. I think that would be a neat experience and something I’d definitely look forward to. I’ve painted a few things like the temples—just from the outside—certain church landmarks, but I haven’t pursued it in a way— Just because I really don’t want to do it for commercial reasons. So I have stayed away from it.

.

Yeah, I’m sympathetic to that.

.

I have a theory that um the Mormons arts need to take the hero’s journey and sort of go out into the world and then come back.

.

That’s right.  No, I agree. I think that we need to be out there and we can do more good that way.

.

Yeah, I agree. So tell me a little bit about teaching.

.

Okay. Teaching for me is kind of a payback although I certainly benefit from it. I find that I really need to know my stuff. It helps me articulate what it is I’m thinking to other students there’s an interesting interaction that takes place when I’m trying to not just solve problems on my canvas but on somebody else’s and to try and get inside their minds and see what they’re thinking and uh what’s working and what’s not working; and dialogue is quite interesting, it helps me better recognize where I’m coming from and maybe not take for granted the way I think.

.

Also, being able to develop certain skills like being able to paint and talk at the same time, which I’ve gotten pretty good at. It’s kind of a hard thing at first because you’re just using totally different sides of the brain, I think. When you paint, it’s almost like your mind turns off—the verbal—forcing your mind—so getting those two to work together is kind of a chore in itself.

.

But getting in the classroom and presenting an idea or a technique in front of the students and getting their feedback really helps in my mind solidify what it is that I believe and also be open to what other artists are thinking and feeling  and believing as well. I think it helps me to stay fresh and open to new possibilities.

.

And also it can be very frustrating. Some students can be very difficult to deal with—or to work with—and that’s the real opportunity to grow as well because there is a tremendous amount of— I’m not sure how to put, to call it anxiety or whatever, but when you’re trying to teach the craft of realism or trying to create the third dimension in a painting or a sense of light— Because there are certain things that over the years in the Western tradition of painting that’s been discovered— One thing called chiaroscuro which means light and dark which is something Leonardo da Vinci did some important work on and that later developed through Western art ever since. So that one is a tremendous—it’s a really important skill that can be taught to an artist regardless of his or her talent. There is an understanding of it that has to be discussed and taught and pointed out and it takes time to develop—it’s not just something—you know it took years to develop. That’s why we had flat art and flat faces for a thousand years, the Dark Ages because that that kind of stuff was lost. I believe the Greeks had it, but somehow it got buried. We don’t have any of the paintings surviving from that era, but that’s why we call it the Renaissance, the rebirth, an understanding of these things like linear perspective and chiaroscuro.

.

So teaching that, some students resist that: “I don’t want to learn anything because it will hamper my creativity and I’ll look like everybody else.” That’s something you have to decide and that’s why a lot of people went into abstract painting or these other forms of -isms is because they didn’t want—they wanted just to look different than everybody else and so they wanted to go their own paths and invariably, everybody that goes their own path, all the canvases look flat because if you don’t learn enough chiaroscuro or perspective or some of these things that create depth in a painting then it’s going to be flat.

.

I’m more of a traditionalist. I respect the old masters; I think that they learned a craft, honed it in a way that has some timeless lessons for art. Certainly the modern artists have added to certain ways of composing and design and so forth and I’ve certainly benefited from that and incorporated it in my work, but I still believe there is something truly valuable about understanding how life works, understanding like atmosphere, creating depth in a landscape where things get lighter and bluer as you go back into the distance and perspective and all those things that have been slowly discovered and refined over the years and I think—I feel like I am one of the stewards that carries that knowledge and wants to pass it on to others.

.

Sierra-Ice

.
I think this is one a really—I suppose it’s not explicitly Mormon, or exclusively Mormon, but this idea of learning and growth and progression as we move towards creation. There’s this need to move forward and progress and become more—

.

Yeah—

.

Oh, go ahead.

.

I started in my undergraduate, I actually went to BYU and BYU, the art program is a little more geared toward the modern notions—wanting to kind of torch the past and do some different ways—kind of rejecting this classical training that I’ve been talking about.

.
I’ve seen a lot of BFA shows at BYU so I know what you’re talking about.

Having gone through that and working through it, it didn’t feel like, I didn’t feel a lot of truth in it and some of these things have been discovered and refined over time and have a genuine—it takes just years and years to practice, to work this stuff out. You can’t ever get to the bottom of it. I feel that as a member of the Church it more goes with my— With the way I view progression and refinement and some of these things. So it certainly is, in that regard, a spiritual decision that I made I am to go this path.

.
This is something I think about also, because, to choose life as an artist requires a certain amount of egotism, a certain amount of thinking you’re good enough so people should care and so you have to find—“ you” I say as if you I am talking to you specifically— but, me, we’ll say, I have to find a balance, a way to be humble at the same time and it sounds like that might be your path that you’ve discovered.

.
I think the big thing is you’re constantly humbled not only by the many wonderful talents that are out there—God’s children—there are just so many amazing talented people out there that it’s a constant source of humility to see what amazing things have been done in the past and are currently being done today in all facets of the art and sciences and things like that and I think it is very humbling. And the other thing is that as I stand before nature and just see how beautiful— It’s been put together in such a magnificent way, you know, for its uses—and not only for its utility but how beautiful it is. I’m constantly humbled by it. I come away from an experience like that and am always in awe of what God has created. So it’s truly humbling. I feel like I can capture just a little bit. Nature never lets you capture all of it; it reserves something for itself which is why I keep going back out.

.

You know, I do have bad days in the studio but I never have a bad day outdoors. It just is such a magnificent experience to be out there. So that is a constant source of humility. You never feel—or at least I never feel like I’ve said all I wanted to say.

.

So I have to ask you this because, listening to you talk, if I did not know I would never guess that you also do cityscapes because as you talk about your art, you’re describing very much what you do outside of the city. So what attracts you to the city then, as opposed to the places you more explicitly seem to think about.
.

Well I usually do view the cityscapes as a landscape. I have to admit there are two sides to me and they were quite separate. At one time I used to show my cityscapes and landscapes in separate galleries because of the— As I’m talking about it, I am sharing a lot of the things, spiritual dimensions, that have developed within me in regards to the landscape. A lot of it has to do with my childhood experiences. I have a strong connection to landscape because of my time spent outdoors especially with my father and my brothers. But with the cityscape, it’s a bit later development. The love of it first began as a missionary in Italy where I just saw how beautiful— It was kind of a harmonious relationship between what man has created to make life a little bit easier and a relationship with the environment. uh however when you get here into area of modern life and urban landscapes, there is a very different mood in these kind of paintings. Instead of the tranquility and the peace it’s more  sort of excitement, the energy— It’s a little bit, it’s kind of the yin and the yang. It’s a little more spicy, it’s a little more intense as I am painting, I get transients coming up and talking to me or if I’m photographing in the middle of the road—hopefully a car doesn’t run me over—which has almost happened a couple times—so it’s just a different—it’s kind of a jungle, in a little harsher environment in some respects, but at the same time it can—I do find those moments where it does have a particular beauty to it. I think the thing that—uh— Yeah, as you can see, I haven’t quite resolved in all in my mind. It just adds a different dimension. It’s maybe so that the landscape with all its idealistic language that I’m talking about doesn’t turn into boredom. I find that going back and forth between these environments helps keep my eye fresh. Also, I feel like I’m an artist of my time and I need to describe— Not just be a recluse out in the pristine areas but that I need to show that my day-to-day life, where I’m spending it around town or when I go into the city. This is part of the reality. What I find beautiful about the city again is some of same things I find in the landscape, and that is the atmosphere—you know, the idea that things get lighter and cooler as they go into the distance—I think that’s beautiful whether you’re in a city or in a landscape; and also the sunlight, the way it hits the buildings, the way it lights up the street or the cars—there is certainly a beauty there. So it’s not that God is just totally out of the details of the city life; I think he’s still there and I think part of it is just finding that, even in those kinds of environment. It’s perhaps a bit more challenging, but at the same time it has something there for me that I keep returning to. Of course we have sacred edifices that man has built and that have quite a bit of significance to them, even though it’s not necessarily a tree or a mountain. So there’s something there that keeps me going back, but that is a later development and that is not as earlier or maybe as deep as some of those other things.

.

'Morning-Cruise'

.
What direction do you see yourself going in now?

.
I have developed a bit of a fusion between the two, the cityscape and landscape. My trees or clouds or mountains or whatever you call them have become a little more structural and my buildings have become  a bit more organic. By bringing these opposites together—and I really think it is these opposites of light and dark, texture / nontexture, more of the cool color / noncolor is where you really find beauty. And maybe for me this is the way I need to— By finding ways to combine these disparate objects or ideas to create something new and interesting. So if I continue to work I am still about refining and trying to increase the sensitivity of my work. Right now I am trying to work with a little more detail.  I use to be a little bit broader and looser—although I still paint very loose, I paint very quickly, my strokes are very fast and very painterly. Part of that is I want that energy and that freshness in the work. I don’t it to be overworked or become too static. I want it very active. I’m not trying to disguise that it’s a painting. I mean it’s oil, it’s paint. I like the texture and the thickness. If you want a machine-made or a picture, you can get that, but I want to express the qualities of the medium. Let’s see. I think I’m getting off topic here.

.
No, it’s okay. Do you work exclusively in oils?
.

Right now, yeah, I do.

.

Low-Tide-Afternoon

.
Well, that’s the end of my questions. What should’ve I asked that I didn’t?

.
That was good. I think, just to add one more thing, the subject is not as important to me as the way things are designed or developed. I really look at the abstract quality of the piece rather than the subject. But at the same time, I— There’s a reason why I choose landscape painting other than, say, instead of doing still life or figure, because I can still explore those same types of things—abstract qualities or some of those things I describe—the thing about landscape or, for me, why I choose landscape, is, one, is an immense desire to be outside, to feel the sunlight, to be out in the open. I don’t like to feel controlled and I just kind of have this feeling of freedom when I’m out there and I think, really, when I look back on my life, the happiest times in my life were most often when I’m outdoors.

.

So people often ask me, “So why do you do landscape? Why don’t you do all these other things?” I think that’s really why, is to be out there in the elements. I feel much more a sense of exhilaration of freedom than if I’m within the walls of some house or a building.

.
special thanks to Rebecca Phuong
who transcribed this interview

6 comments: “Bryan Mark Taylor: “…when I feel the Spirit I sit down and paint.”

  1. Anna

    Great questions, and wonderful paintings. It is nice to see Mormon artists who paint more than “Mormon” subjects. Everyone can appreciate this beautiful artwork.

  2. Wm Morris

    I really like the first painting. But then I was one of those weirdos who enjoyed foggy, grey June San Francisco days.

    Thanks, Th.

  3. Jen

    Thank you for doing this interview. I really enjoyed hearing about the “why” and the “so what” of Bryan’s landscape art. It gave me a lot to think about.

  4. Devin

    Great interview. The paintings themselves are truly incredible, but hearing how Bryan describes his work adds an enlightening dimension. I am envious how Bryan has found a living/lifestyle that he is passionate about and truly connects with God.

  5. don

    thanks for the article. reminds me how much i enjoy art. (now, back to the rat race).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>