“When I’m painting from life the colors seem more alive and apparent, because it’s real–I mean, whatever real is… A human being is never in black and white, even if I’m colorblind.” – Henry Taylor (H. Taylor, quoted in interview with D. Lawson, “Deana Lawson & Henry Taylor,” BOMB, http://bombmagazine.org/article/6723827/deana-lawson-henry-taylor, Fall 2015).
“When I’m painting, I want to be free.” – Henry Taylor (H. Taylor, quoted in interview with D. Lawson, “Deana Lawson & Henry Taylor,” BOMB, http://bombmagazine.org/article/6723827/deana-lawson-henry-taylor, Fall 2015).
With voracious impasto and a freewheeling, painterly delineation of form, Henry Taylor, in What Can I Say?, conflates figuration and realism, the result of which is a provocative and mischievous scene. As the reclining nude indulges in a moment of relaxation, two floating and opposing heads blend into the fabric of the daybed, poignantly framed by the subject’s sprawling legs. Taylor exchanges technical acuity for an unhindered expression of line, supplementing the sensuous scene of uninhibited languor. Instinctive outbursts of cerulean blues and earthy browns mark the canvas, creating a subjective and ephemeral representation of the surrounding environment. Taylor remarks, “When I’m painting from life the colours seem more alive and apparent because it’s real–I mean, whatever real is … A human being is never in black and white, even if I’m colourblind. Right now I’m looking out my window and I see shades of green, and then something may be reflecting onto that green from somebody’s apartment. So you get blue in there” (H. Taylor, quoted in D. Lawson, “Deana Lawson and Henry Taylor,” BOMB, no. 133, Autumn 2015, p. 133).
Henry Taylor’s series from 2010, ‘Couch Paintings’, exemplifies his omnivorous exploration of portraiture, where he stages his sitters in his Los Angeles studio. Now, in this work from 2011, he benevolently portrays an anonymous female subject luxuriating in what seems to be a private moment. Here, Taylor challenges the notion of voyeurism, as the engrossed nude directs her gaze to the scene before her, rather than back at the viewer. He paints her with varying shades so that her ambiguous skin tone produces an almost unfinished quality. Frequently invoking the masters that came before him, Taylor subverts the image of Manet’s Olympia, while undeniably upending Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde.