‘Several paintings reflect the eye of a skilled portraitist, most noticeably “Chris”’
Rendered with bold, impassioned brushstrokes against a rich abstract backdrop, the present painting is a vivid early masterpiece from Henry Taylor’s distinctive portrait practice. Painted in 2004, it depicts Chris: a homeless man whom the artist befriended in his hometown of Los Angeles. Drawing inspiration from artists such as David Hockney, R. B. Kitaj and Alice Neel, Taylor is celebrated for his arresting, vibrant evocations of contemporary life. His portrait subjects are diverse, ranging from his friends and family to celebrities and people he encounters on the street. Taylor treats strangers and acquaintances with equal intensity, seeking to capture the vitality of the moment shared between painter and sitter. His work is partly informed by the decade he spent working as a psychiatric assistant at the Camarillo State Hospital, whilst completing his studies at CalArts. His early paintings and drawings of the patients he met there taught him critical lessons in artistic observation. ‘I learned not to dismiss anybody,’ he explains. ‘It just made me a little more patient, a little more empathetic. It taught me to embrace a lot of things. A lot of people will avoid a person who doesn’t appear normal, but I’m not like that’ (H. Taylor, quoted in K. Rosenberg, ‘Henry Taylor on His Profoundly Empathetic Early Portraits of Psychiatric Patients’, Artspace, 2 April 2016). Shortly after its creation, the present work was singled out by art critic Roberta Smith of The New York Times, who reviewed Taylor’s solo exhibition in 2005. ‘Several paintings reflect the eye of a skilled portraitist’, she writes, ‘most noticeably “Chris”’ (R. Smith, ‘Art in Review: Henry Taylor’, The New York Times, February 2005).