November 2020-April 2021
IN CONVERSATION: JACK ANTHONY TAYLOR
ON THE CLOUD9 RESIDENCY ‘IN THE HEAVENS, ON THE LAND, UNDERNEATH IT, BEHIND MY EYES’.
By Krystina Tyrtania
Jack Anthony Taylor, 25, is a visual artist living and working in Letchworth Garden City. Jack is the second artist from Eastcheap Studios to take part in the Arts Council funded Cloud9 Residency programme at Eastcheap Project Space, in Letchworth. Jack has been working in the Project Space for 10 days, developing a series of paintings.
How has this residency opportunity developed your practice?
“Being in a space dedicated to just developing pieces that have been in the works for a year or so now has been great. It’s been a continuation on from what I’ve already been doing and given me the space to work. The main change in this is that the work is large scale and it’s allowed me to get back into what I used to do a lot which is painting.”
Did you used to work large scale a lot?
“Yeah, I used to work quite large scale and before this residency everything was a lot smaller. The images I’ve been making in the build-up to this residency have been quite small. But I’ve been making these quite large props and other objects to use, and I suppose one thing I would say and one thing I haven’t done for a while is work at this pace which I think has been quite good, actually.”
Would you say it was quicker than usual?
“Yeah. I had the base colours and patterns and rough form of what I wanted to do down on small first anyway but changing that from smaller images to larger ones is something that really developed the works in earnest. I had to think differently from just having a small print out onto quite disposable images done in pastel and in five minutes, compared to applying paint to prints that aren’t so disposable. You really have to dare yourself to lay things down, even if it is already in your mind what you want to do. You feel like you want to be tentative with the image and not take away from the photograph, which is already there, but at the same time you want to make it work as a painting and tell a story. In terms of that, I think I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve.”
Yes, I’d agree you’ve achieved that. There’s definitely a strong narrative and storytelling element going on in the pieces.
“Yes exactly. For me the visual style is really important, and I certainly have been able to develop that in this work, in the way I hope other work will come out in the future. It’s rare you get the opportunity to have a space like this so you have to respect it, make the most of it and cherish it.”
Was a change of scale something you wanted to utilise being in the space?
“Yes, definitely. It’s funny, I wrote my dissertation on the studio and it being like the scaffold that holds you. Like a playground for an artist. I was looking outside my flat window where I was living on Edgeware Road at the time and there was scaffold there, and I was really stuck writing, I didn’t know where I was going to go with it. Seeing that simple structure which you see everywhere and reflecting back on when I was a small boy, when we were having some work done on our house and that scaffolding became my playground. It’s interesting how it’s a functional thing, but as a kid, it can be a castle, a ship, a skyscraper, a battlement or whatever. I think I wanted to look at the space I’m in no matter what space it is as a playground and approach it in the same way. That’s why the way I’m working at the moment is using that same idea of the space being the scaffolding and what is the surrounding as well as you being in it. That’s how you make your work and design what you do around it. That’s why I went to making and using props.”
It’s interesting that idea of construction of environment. The imagery in each of the works ties in with you conjuring up this imaginary environment and illustrating something very fantastical.
“You find yourself influenced by things which you just gather over time, you can’t just pinpoint it. You always reference things that intrigue you and you think aren’t relevant. It allows you to reflect in colourful ways. I think I’ve managed to do it with this residency, trying to illustrate these abstract feelings that everyone has. The light and the dark, and that everything’s a bit unnerving and uncertain at the moment.”
You titled your residency ‘In the heavens, on the land, underneath it, behind my eyes’. Can we talk a little about the imagery in your work and the titles that you give your pieces?
“I want to weave poetry into the images, so they’re like pages of a book as well as visual work. I was thinking about frescos in Orthodox Greek or Byzantine chapels, and when I went to Rhodes and they were everywhere, you get so engrossed in these images and you don’t necessarily know what’s going on. You can follow it even though you don’t fully understand it. That’s what I want to translate into my work. There’s a habit in the artistic world now where an artist makes something and can’t let it simply be. They have to intellectualise it and its this intellectualisation of artwork that actually suffocates imagination for me. People get bored of that. The ordinary person won’t be enthralled by being told what it is or what it’s about.”
It’s like having room for nuance. The best artwork, every single person who looks at it has a slightly different interpretation of it.
“Yeah exactly. I’ve moved back home from London where I was living and studying and happily forgetting about where I came from. Especially over the past year we’ve had, and life events, like my grandfather passing away this year. Lockdown had happened and I was really absorbing myself in how pretty it was around here. When you’re by yourself, you’re just wandering about and your imagination runs wild. When your hands are tied in what you can do you become more creative and it allowed me to reflect on the place I’ve grown up. It made me excited for what I can do in these environments and how to give them a mysticism. It’s all ingrained already in folklore and tradition and town names – this idea of utopia and green space, especially in Letchworth. I want to be able to reflect things that could be anywhere and take characters I’ve made to go into the work and transcribe them into other places and have them have a different relationship or similarity. It’s a unifying factor. For a lot of people in my age group in the artistic community, Brexit was a big blow. Especially in London and the London centric circle, when you’re surrounded by people from so many different places you have a desire to travel to those places and see something new. But now we can’t do that, so you have to make something new now for your eyes and senses.”
I see, so making environments that could be anywhere and nowhere.
“I’ve been very influenced by folkloric images. Whether its Arthur Rackham, who did fairy-tale illustrations in the late Victorian era and being exposed to that from a very early age, as well as Tolkein and other books and myths. I used to listen to audio cassettes to get me to sleep of Greek myths. They’re hazy now but they were fascinating. The same with Norse myths, which I’ve been into more recently. It’s nice being able to grapple with the ideas they contend with. The gods are quite immature sometimes stupid but incredibly powerful. Like politicians now. There’s that idea in all good religious or mythical stories that there’s a beginning and an end and its interesting seeing where they differ and where they crossover. Like in stories in Christianity and then Pagan cultures of Europe. The stories are cultural traditions and are millennia old, but they’ve taken on a different guise and that’s reflected now. In that same spirit I wanted to be inspired by and take images that these stories conjure up and use them myself.”
But none of these images are explicit representations of stories. You’ve taken something you’ve read and then made it different. For example, the middle piece in this triptych titled ‘Yggdrasil did burn and will burn as it did’.
“Yggdrasil is the world tree in Norse mythology, at the top is Asgard where the gods reside, midgard is where humans live on earth in the middle of that tree and hell is at the bottom. From this I’ve only included the stump of the tree. Thinking about ends of things like Armageddon or Ragnarök – there’s always an end of things looping round. Like the great flood after the ice age or Noah’s ark would have felt like an end. These myths are stepped in reality. Forests in brazil are burning and these forests are our life blood, so these parallels are drawn even in modern day. But I don’t see this burning tree as the end…”
When you were painting it, it made me think about the burning bush from the Bible. The story from what I can remember is about believing and seeing to be able to believe. The bush randomly sets alight during a point where there’s disbelief. They see this miracle in order to suspend their disbelief.
“That’s an interesting perspective because I didn’t see it like that. But I guess for me sometimes you have to see to believe or accept it’s happening, like with wildfires. You might not be able to actually do much about it. I suppose it’s an acceptance thing. But we know it’s not the end, it’s perhaps a new beginning.”
Well, ash is a great fertiliser for the ground isn’t it?
“Yeah, it’s the best. I guess the arsonist in us all just loves staring at the flames, don’t we?”
Let’s talk about the making of these images for you.
“I took these images in local woodland with a friend I was bubbled with. I think with the limitations of where we are at the moment, it means my work has often been with one person in the image. It’s either a figure, disguised with masks in some way, or it’s focusing in on the environment or a scene using the props. Even if it’s not a living being, it takes on being a body or a figure in this space. With the last image in this triptych, I wanted to try and tie what was going on in the big negative space behind the sun to what was going on in the base. When I started it, it wasn’t going to be a snake. But as I painted, it became with other living being to contrast the other being in the piece. Snakes are interesting because they rejuvenate and shed their skins whilst also being this monstrous figure.”
The snake here is almost like an apparition.
“It might not be a real snake – it might just be something you see in the clouds. I always try my best to reflect on the nuances of what you see in your day to day and on the ground you’re on. Same thing for the clouds and the birds as well. You know, I always get amazed seeing seagulls this far in land from the sea.”
My Grandpa used to work as an engineer on boats that transported bananas, and he told me when I was little that seagulls fly this far in land when it’s rough at sea. Which come to think of it, I don’t think its true… but I’ve always then associated seeing seagulls at home with it being rough at sea, which is quite poetic really.
“Despite whether it’s true or not, it’s beautiful. We probably don’t reflect on those things enough. We need a bit more mystery in our lives, we always want to know everything and we’re too greedy. Let a bit of poetry happen.”
Do you want to talk a little about your influences?
“The artists that have really been influencing me over this period include Anselm Kiefer, Tel R, Peter Doig, Roger Ballen, Patrick Woodroffe who did these beautiful illustrations, really quirky and sexy images, but pure fantasy. He was Cornish and it really played on the whole by the sea fantasy. Fish and fishwomen, birds with human faces, that kind of thing. Tal R I only discovered recently, does these really colourful and particular images, some of them I really don’t like at all, and others I adore massively. When I see them all together you don’t care whether you don’t like some because they’re all part of that collective images. They’re very pattern based, and the images are broken up, they’re very intense to gaze at. I took a lot of influence from him. And Roger Ballen as well, especially when going ahead with the photographs, I wanted to reference Ballen. I’d never really looked at his work before, but when I went to Thessaloniki in the summer of last year, I was already working with photos but more with a scanner to make work. I never finished developing it, because I got depressed, so it’s nice coming round to doing work on that stuff because you discover these artists in your practice, and it excites you again. It can be hard to bounce off artists in a similar state of flux to you sometimes, so good to discover artists like that who really excite you.”
With the limitations on time we’ve had in the studio over the past year has affected a lot of artists’ practices. We’ve had our studios closed, reopened, then closed with measures in place, and now we’re really lucky to be able to come in and remai
n socially distanced in order to work. It’s important in order to continue your practice that you still feel like you’re getting that stimulus from somewhere else. With your show being solely online now, how have the limitations of online only viewing affected the work?
“I was a bit less precious about the space it was in. Normally I start painting and I get excited about how to display the painting and what about the space and creating an installation and painting within that, that’s part of a space. But I think context is everything for a space and images and if you don’t have an audience to go an
d see that context then it changes. I would have liked to create more of an environment for people to be in the space. There’s a lot of amazing things you can do with online exhibitions, like an app where its floating in your room or a totally imagined gallery space and you can do that with the online environment, changing the traditional four white walls of a gallery space. Perhaps this is something to think about for the future.”
For artistic enquiries Jack can be found via Instagram @taylorjackanthony or his website www.jackanthonytaylor.co.uk