Ken Taylor is a Mexican artist and sculptor shaping, moulding, and painting his visions of the past, present, and future into colourful scenes, ceramic cowboy hats, and entrancing deep blue afternoon skies in the wilderness, cascading into nighttime. Initially we assign words like solitary, desolate, and uninhabited to the desert, but Ken Taylor paints so much more. His latest exhibition can be seen online at Simchowitz Gallery in LA.
The artist grew up with two parents from Mexico in an migrant community in the San Joaquin Valley, where he found a form of creative inspiration watching his parents be resourceful to make ends meet. Taylor fondly reminisces about this childhood, in particular of an intimate conversation with his father telling him, “you have to look with your mind, not just with your eyes.” His craft immerses the viewer in a total experience of the natural beauty of the Americana desert and panoramic vistas of landscapes embedded with historical influences. Captivation with the outdoors, started for Taylor with his first visit to Sequoia National Park. We spoke about his notorious use of Sombrero hats, what part American iconography has to play in his work, and the meaning of colour.
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You are a Mexican artist and sculptor. Could you tell us a little about your childhood and how your upbringing shaped who you are as a creative today?
I grew up with two parents from Mexico in an immigrant community in the San Joaquin Valley. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs. Their lifestyles were dependent on using available resources to make ends meet. I learned to find creative solutions by watching them. My stepdad had his own mechanic shop for a long time. When I would work at the shop with him he would always tell me, “ you have to look with your mind, not just with your eyes.”
How does American iconography play a role within your work?
The American iconography creates a sense of time and location. By using the sombrero in my landscapes, there is a subtle hint or idea that the landscape comes from a certain era in history that has impacted the ideology or social structures of my community. I believe the Sombrero or Cowboy Hat reflects a singular utilitarian object that was created or at least influenced by all the surrounding cultures.
Your unique designs explore the dichotomy between those who serve the economy and those who take the credit. Could you tell us a little more about these references?
This question brings the phrase “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” to mind. My next thought is about the hands that feed. Who picks the food you eat and who hands over the federal notes.
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Your paintings embody many aspects of nature. From scarlet hued mountainous landscapes to bright cheerful flower standing in harmony with the blue skies. Where did your fascination for the outdoors begin?
My fascination began the first time I visited Sequoia National Park. I was about 5 years old and I couldn’t believe how big and old the trees were. I wanted to make art about the outdoors more, when I learned most people, including myself, could identify corporate logos and brands easier than identifying nature; trees, flowers, plants, birds etc. I wanted to learn more so I began using art as a way to research.
Your work is an enigmatic narrative of our return to nature. What does this return look like for you?
It looks like knowledge of our physical nature. I wish to be able to identify which herbs and plants are edible and being part of our natural living ecosystems.
Sombrero hats are quite intrinsic when it comes to your artist symbolism. Cowboy hats embody so many facets of social and political ideologies. How does your art break down these ideologies for radical change?
I believe sombreros have a function. They are worn to protect us from the sun when we are outside. I think there is a lot to learn from being outside that can give us common ground when it comes to ideas about radical change. For me, the more I can learn about these things the greater chance I have to undergo radical changes within myself; ultimately inspiring radical changes to those around me.
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Gigantic flying hats, gliding over the endless mountains, signify freedom particularly from western shared and individual identity. Could you tell us a little more about these ideologies?
Once a person understands how to work with nature our behaviour can become more natural.
Just like the intentional symbolism of the hats, your colours are influenced by your Mexican heritage. A bold expression of blues, greens, oranges and yellows hues. When I first saw your art, Frida Kahlo jumped into my mind. Another Mexican artist that experiments with colours close to home. I also feel a connection when it comes to surrealism with your work. How do you think your art and the art of surrealism collide?
I feel flattered for those comparisons. If I could collide [with surrealism] I think there is a certain amount of emotion and imagination within our natural world that surrealism allows us to experience. It’s these symbols and places that painting allows for all possibilities to be visible. Not only as imagery but also in the hand or application of paint from the artist.
Do you incorporate any traditional techniques within your creative process?
I believe so. I feel like there are recipes that have been handed down from those before us. These recipes give us techniques on how to create pieces of art that can withstand the wear of time to hopefully survive and inspire civilisations far ahead.
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What does the making process of your ceramic sombrero hats look like?
It looks like you would need to come by for a studio visit.
Your artwork is now being shown and represented by gallerist Stefan Simschowitz. What does this representation mean to you as an artist?
For me, it feels great to have support. Support from a gallery that wants to see artists create art. I feel grateful for that. I appreciate the type of support that Stefan offers to me, so I can continue to explore and develop my artistic language by any means necessary. It’s allowed me to truly focus on my purpose in life. To make.
Where does your mind wander when bringing your pieces into existence?
It wanders in many directions, always looking to return to the same place and that is the present.
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