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 Philip Taaffe  (1955 - )

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Lived/Active: New York/New Jersey / Italy      Known for: op art expression, collage, works on paper

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Ad Code: 2
Philip Taaffe
from Auction House Records.
Midnight Blue, 1985
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Contemporary artist Philip Taaffe, specializing in post-modern decorative abstraction, was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1955.  He lives and works in New York City. His paintings are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art.

Rene Ricard writes the following paragraphs about Philip Taaffe, placing Taaffe's work in the context of Pompeiian painting: "Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis is the principal source for what we know about Greek and Roman art. I'd been reading Pliny this winter. Coincidentally, Philip Taaffe also read Pliny's "Natural History" this year, and hearing about my research wanted me to see his new paintings that derive considerable inspiration from the book. What caught my attention about Philip's paintings, however, was not their ostensible subject matter-the starfish, dragonflies and fantastic birds but more to the point, their structure reminded me immediately of Roman wall painting, the beginning of a tradition that runs parallel and yet distinct from European easel painting. In fact, one of Philip Taaffe's new paintings, 'Aviary,' is composed of birds and feathers: there is a room in the Domus Aurea painted entirely with birds."

"I asked Philip Taaffe how he thought of the surface that he worked on and he said, 'Campo.' In Italian the word campo means field. But when you hear it its often with other words in a phrase - like Campo dei Fiori or Camposanto (cemetery). These campi usually have a wall around them or are bordered by houses: framed that is. But by thinking of the painting area as a field (rather then a window, which implies space), one precludes formal limits. One can simply place things as one wills. Consider the paintings inside the Golden House of Nero: they are severely gridded. They relate to modern art and to Philip in particular because if there is no grid, if there isn't this kind of structure relating to the outside perimeter of the wall or canvas, it doesn't work in the dialectic that has been historically imposed on modern painting. Phillip's paintings 'Diadem' and 'Glyphic Field' have gridded compositions in two distinct senses. The architectural construction of 'Diadem' relates to the internal pattern of the silica casing of the diatoms, and in his treatment of them the scale remains consistent. In 'Glyphic Field,' the layers of printed petroglyphs seem to move and spiral, yet maintain the integrity of an ordered grid. Once I was pointing to 'Bal Asterie' to illustrate Philip's use of grid upon grid, and he replied, 'I have a negative approach to handling the grid I'm suspicious of the grid, I try to avoid those constraints, but at the same time, as an ordering device, its second nature to me.'"

"Philip Taaffe's new paintings are very large, like walls, and impose the same demands as a wall. The problems he faces are the same as any painter's. He has simply chosen to address his canvas the way Famulus would have in the construction of elaborate detail within the architecturally determined subdivisions of pictorial space. Philip said something telling about this connection: 'I believe in the concept of art coming out of some historical precedent. I like to examine and investigate the issue of historical precedence and either to rupture it, or to find a method of continuity. To find the thread -- break it, or continue it, but to respond somehow.' This is the perfect statement of the modern painter; it's what distinguishes the painter from someone who paints, this response to prior art. I know that Philip lived for quite a while in Naples, and that Pompeii is in his blood I've been able to study his paintings while they were fresh and to experience the consonance of his work with a spiritual brother of his who lived two thousand years ago. Pliny doesn't tell us how Famulus died. Or maybe Philip Taaffe is Famulus, determined this time to do it right and not get thrown out of art history."

Biography from
Philip Taaffe was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1955, and studied at the Cooper Union in New York. His first solo exhibition was in New York in 1982. He has traveled widely in the Middle East, India, South America, and Morocco, where he collaborated with Mohammed Mrabet on the book Chocolate Creams and Dollars, translated by Paul Bowles (Inanout Press, New York: 1993).

Taaffe lived and worked in Naples from 1988-91. He has been included in numerous museum exhibitions, including the Carnegie International, two Sydney Biennials, and three Whitney Biennials. In 1990 his work was the subject of an extensive critical study in Parkett no. 26 (Zürich & New York).

Publications include studies by Wilfried Dickoff (Max Hetzler Gallery, Cologne: 1992); Oleg Grabar (Gagosian Gallery, New York: 1994); Brooks Adams (Vienna Secession: 1996), and Robert Rosenblum (IVAM, Valencia: 2000).

His work is in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the Reina Sofia, Madrid. Surveys of his work include the IVAM, Valencia, in 2000; Galleria Civica, Trento, Italy, in 2001; and the Galleria d'Arte Moderna, San Marino, Italy, in 2004. Philip Taaffe presently resides and works in New York City.

Taaffe is an artist who defies simple categorization. Combining elements of Islamic architecture, Op Art, Eastern European textile design, calligraphy, and botanical illustration, Taaffe’s works are densely layered, labor-intensive abstractions. They draw on the decorative elements of Art Nouveau without assuming a fully decorative character; his use of repetition and geometric patterns of imaging create not only a sense of continuity, but infinity.

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