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 Tom Taylor  (1941 - )

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Lived/Active: Colorado/California / Africa      Known for: wildlife-birds and mammals, conceptual, illustrator

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Tom Taylor
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Tom Taylor aka Thoss Taylor (b. 1941)

Though Tom Taylor’s greatest recognition came in the late 1980’s as a wildlife artist his art career has been long and diverse: even including that of being known under a different version of his name, Thoss W. Taylor, during his Hollywood years as a “conceptual artist”.

He was raised on a Colorado farm near Longmount and cultivated his love of animals there, but chose very early on to pursue his knack for art.  Following many years of exploring many styles, mediums, and solo exhibits, he lived in Africa in 1978 where he was taken by the abundance of wild animals. He quickly discovered the base for what was to become his signature work, wildlife art.  He did a series of fine-art posters for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.  His simple, elegant, hard-edged images drew the attention of the major international licensing agent, , which, in turn, led him to contracts with the World Wildlife Fund, The National Audubon Society, and other companies.

He began to establish his earliest reputation as a fine artist when he dropped out of the University of Colorado in 1964, exhibiting in several Colorado one-man shows, one in Washington D.C., beginning with somewhat somber, hard-edged, casein paintings of faceless children, then progressing to sensitive pencil portraits within hard-edged environments.

In 1965, Barbara Haddad wrote in The Denver Post about this early work: . . . "with neither sentimentality nor cynicism, Taylor is proving himself a precocious master of perception for people as individuals. He can do this…because his seemingly effortless technique lets the viewer concentrate on the subject, unconcerned about how its striking air truth was achieved. While his eye is uncritical – like Daumier and Toulouse-Lautrec before him – merely catch people when they’re satirizing themselves.”     

His move to Hollywood in 1965, led to free-lancing and a job as an art director for a record company where he designed album covers and had his first two solo exhibitions of art, this time, exploring the field of minimal art – simplistic pencil lines on illustration board, some of them slightly hinting at the subject of clapboard siding.   The exhibit was favorably reviewed by Henry Seldis in The Los Angeles Times.

Beginning in 1969, while working as a Beverly Hills needlepoint designer, and known as Thoss Taylor, he set out to produced a “conceptual art” series of Photostats.  There were 100 8x10’s of each piece, many of them collaborated, and co-signed, (some of them with persons of note: such as etiquette guru, Amy Vanderbilt, and the controversial screenwriter and a patron of his work, Dalton Trumbo), built around the concept of the word, “confine”, questioning what his culture held sacred.  There were 100 different pieces created, signed and numbered.  And one hundred of these collections in total for use as multiple concurrent exhibits.  An agent for this project was a contemporary Los Angeles art dealer who placed “The Confines of Thoss W. Taylor” as a one-man show in eighteen museums, universities, and galleries from coast to coast in 1972 and beyond.  And since that time, it has been exhibited in several other galleries.  A Taylor retrospective of the work was held at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado, in 1983; and within another retrospective in his home town of Longmont, Colorado, in 1989, at The Longmont Museum.

Taylor dropped out from the Los Angeles art scene in 1972 and moved to the mountains of northern California where he took his first significant break from art.  He managed a cattle ranch, a fruit orchard and worked as a dairyman.  He moved to Zambia in 1978 where he became a realistic wildlife artist, using dime-store watercolor paints inherited from an American friend.  He also did work for the Zambia Wildlife Conservation Society. Then, for a ZWCZ calendar, he began to develop the hard-edged painting style that would eventually become his characteristic, signature work.

He returned to the U.S. in 1980; did several solo exhibits of realistic African wildlife paintings in acrylic.  He considered this period of work mediocre though it sold well.  Wildlife realism was just not his specialty.  Settling in Denver, he also began development of a large contemporary series, known as the Expectations Series---activated men’s suits, bodies, and other garments, topped by hangers instead of heads.  Also he did other radical alternative style art, much of it cynical and/or political.  One of the best-received shows featured work either made of or about white bread as a symbol of shallow American values.  This work was shown in co-op galleries for several years.  He was doing all of this while further perfecting and producing his “breadwinner” graphic wildlife images.

During this period, Taylor was comfortable with a sort of double life: commercial work as well as somewhat 'Bohemian' work.  Following are comments by reviewers during that time.
   
1983, The Reporter Herald, August, Phyllis Walbye, “Tom Taylor, Retrospective Exhibition”,
University of Northern Colorado. “…strong imagery…The works reflect the pop culture of two decades, and the eloquent thoughts, ideas and musings of an artist who has been no wide-eyed Candide, but has repeatedly returned to the beauty of the world after feeling it’s pain.”
   
1988, May 18, Rocky Mountain News, Jennifer Heath, “Eating the Dream”. “Tom Taylor is like a human prism. The facets of his art mark achievements many artists fear as well as envy.”
   
1990, September 5, Westword Magazine, “Give Him A Hand”, Nancy Clegg, p.28, about Taylor’s “With Liberty and Justice for All” one-man gallery exhibit in Denver. “Taylor consistently confirms my idealistic belief that the creation of art should be – can be – an act of integrity.”    

In 1995, he became restless with the intensity of the precision of hard-edged painting, and so began to develop a series of rough-surfaced animal pieces with mixed media, more loosely rendered, wildly colored. This work was not well met in May of ’96 at a solo exhibit, by a public which continued to expect his same style. This was his last one-man show.

From his first one-man show in 1964, to his last in 1996, he had been featured in more than four-dozen solo exhibitions.

In September of 1996, Taylor was suddenly struck by critical illness and was told that his life was very near its end.  At that time, he began the dispensation of the bulk of the remaining pieces of his art – some by gift/donation, some by quick-sale – the shutdown of his licensing business, and the “last goodbyes” to his friends and acquaintances.  However the severe illness, though real, had been misdiagnosed and he did not die.  Nonetheless, it exacerbated the beginning for reestablishing an entirely new baseline for his everyday existence from that time on.  For the first time in his life, he lost his desire to paint or make art.  He became withdrawn and reticent.  He and his companion left the city and moved to a more private place atop a rocky ridge in southern Colorado to live an insular life.

In 2000, his reticence broke.  He unearthed a desire to write. He became a poet, working under the pen name The Poet Spiel.  He quickly became internationally published in scores of independent press magazines, both in hard copy and online.  He writes predominately about personal conflict and the darkness of man's condition.  Along the way, he dabbled in passionate drawings which matched the nature of his poetry.

In 2007, under his new persona, Spiel, he cautiously rediscovered his paints and brushes with an anguished self-portrait.  His paintings, since then, have been deep and measured, usually figurative with the experience of his "death" and a more complex exploration about confines as their basis.  There is a curious mix of his farm upbringing and his lifelong mental illness in them, and the childhood influences of Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post magazine covers and Grant Wood's American Gothic where that white clapboard siding still haunts him. But they sting with irony, a sort of razor's edge satirical statement, distinctly contemporary, and like so much of his poetry, not for the weak at heart.  They come more slowly than when he was young and exuberant.  And when he exhibits them, he holds few expectations of a mass public that will embrace them as it once did with his elegan t wildlife graphics.                

MAGAZINES
1971, May, Pace Magazine, “Thoss Taylor Centennial Gift…”, Lea Flanders, p.2
1981, September, Choice Magazine, “Return of the Artist”, Libby James, p.34
1985 April, Post Electricity, “Canvases, Collectors and Cash”, Theresa Schiavone, p.12
1985 Club Ties, “The Arts, Eyeless in Gotham”, Jane Fudge
1985, January, Art Business News, “Museum Art Posters Catch On Big”, p.27
1985, March, Guide Magazine, front cover art, also p.29
1985, November, Art Business News, “Picture Gallery”, p.13
1985 November, The Artist’s Magazine, “If the Suit Fits”, Bebe Raupe, p.32
1986, September, Midwest Art, “Escaping the Confines”, Amy Ward, pp. 66-
1987, Summer, Artspace, “Colorado Letter”, Nancy Clegg
1990, Quest, “Tom Taylor, Hovering in the Wings”, Dan Thigpen, p.21
1991 WildBird, “Birds In Art, An Introduction To The World Of Avian Art”, Todd Clausnitzer
1991 September, Wildbird, “Project Puffin”, Stephen Kress, p.36
1992, September, Triangle, “International Artist Displayed”, p.15
1992, November, Wildlife Art News, “Artist Vignette: Tom Taylor”, Todd Wilkinson, pp.154-155
1992 November, Wildlife Art News, November, “The Artwalk”, p.190
1992, October, Art Business News, “Picture Gallery”, p.54
1994 U.S Art’s Wildlife Guide, “Don’t Fence Them In”, Phil Davies p.52, see also p.78

BOOKS
Birds in Art, 1991, color
American Artists: An Illustrated Survey of Leading Contemporaries.
Art and the Animal, 1992, color
Art and the Animal, 1993, color
Art and the Animal, 1994, color
Birds in Art 25th Anniversary, 1976-2000, John Forester, 2000
Beasts, Guernsey’s catalog, 1995, color
Audubon Wildlife Report 1988-1989, color, front cover
Audubon Wildlife Report 1989-1990, color, front cover
Natural Wonders, John and Alice Woodson Forester Miniature Collection, p.43, 1994, color
Christie’s South Kensington Wildlife Art, p.297, 1996

MUSEUMS
The Corcoran Gallery of Art
Museums in America.
Bell Museum of Natural History
Denver Art Museum,
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum
Houston Museum of Contemporary Art – Sotheby Parke-Bernet Galleries, 52116
The National Museum of Wildlife Art
Wildlife World Museum
Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

ART ORGANIZATION:
Society of Animal Artists

SIGNIFICANT EXHIBITIONS
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
California Institute of the Arts, Burbank, CA
Newport Harbor Art Museum, Balboa, CA
Sotheby Park-Bernet/ Houston Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, TX
Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado (retrospective)   
Wadsworth Atheneum, Harford, Conn.

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