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Go Figure

Taylor's Ambitious Work Fascinates but Frustrates

Brian Taylor's oil panting "Tower," part of his solo show at Gomez Gallery

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 7/18/2001

Paintings by Brian Taylor

Gomez Gallery through July 28

It often takes time for a talented young artist to find something distinctive to say. That seems to be the case with Brian Taylor, a 25-year-old Maryland Institute, College of Art graduate having his second solo show at the Gomez Gallery.

Taylor's big paintings have large ambitions. They incorporate art-historical references, schematic figuration set against abstract washes, and occasionally such three-dimensional additions as buttons, coins, a spigotlike piece of metal, and even an ornamental eagle figurine that seems like a nod to the real stuffed eagle in Robert Rauschenberg's mixed-media painting "Canyon."

A lot goes into Taylor's works, but is there a lot going on in them? To the extent that they succeed, it's because the artist's technical capability and questing intelligence make you want to stick around and see what he's up to. It's interesting to watch him dip into art history, aim to strike a balance between representation and abstraction, push his paintings into sculptural dimensions, and search for a style to call his own. Right now, though, he's checking out possibilities more often than he's making thematic connections.

You can sense Taylor's exploratory nature in his depictions of schematically rendered hands and faces outlined in black. There are so many figurative fragments floating against abstract zones that some of his paintings resemble figure studies deliberately left unresolved. These generic body parts occasionally accompany more detailed references and drawing, which is intriguing if ultimately unsatisfying. One such untitled mixed-media painting includes a delicate pencil drawing of a woman's hand richly adorned with two rings, a bracelet, and an elegant fan. This hand possesses the classical grace of its inspiration, the work of 19th-century French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Taylor skillfully emulates Ingres' style and plays it off against the painting's more brusque figurative elements, but the end result seems like Taylor flexing his creative muscles rather than applying them to a particular purpose.

Another work aiming for an interplay of specific and generic figurative imagery is the oil painting "II Plumit," in which classically conceived, randomly arrayed, and fragmentary faces exude the stoic serenity one would expect from a Roman wall painting. However, other faces in this work are reduced to a few definitional lines. You can't miss noticing the juxtaposed facial treatments, but if thematic connections exist here, they're not obvious.

In some Taylor paintings obscurity is clearly the point. Take the oil painting "Hidden," for instance, in which the blurry paint handling makes a female nude seem like a dreamy apparition. She's also partly concealed by a bare tree, nude in its own way. In addition to being a beautifully painted picture, "Hidden" seems to be a statement of Taylor's intention: hands, faces, and, in this piece, an entire female body are directly presented and yet in some way denied to you. If a viewer is left feeling frustrated at the obscurity and feeling of incompleteness, well, that appears to be the artist's plan.

Taylor seems capable of pulling such elements together into a cohesively cerebral body of work, and, to grant him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he's already done so and this viewer simply desires a warmer humanistic agenda. But even if that turns out to be the case, I can't help wondering if the artist isn't harboring (and occasionally expressing) the sentiment that human beings are more than the sum of their outlined hands and faces.

The show includes an untitled oil painting in which a male figure's own two hands are supplemented by other hands either affixed to his body or floating around it. It seems like an assertion, typical for Taylor's work, of how multiple hands don't necessarily indicate a meaningful community. However, look closely at the young man's head. It's tilted to the side, accentuating the pensive expression on his realistically rendered face.

Unlike almost every other figure in the show, this guy has psychological substance. Call me sentimental, but this is a first-rate portrait with some feeling behind it. If an artist is going to roam through art history for inspiration, why not allow for old-fashioned humanism?

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