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Mining the Spirit (3)


It also soothes this artist on his journeys. It was dirt, he says, that helped him cope with the harsh realities of growing up black in the Delta.

“Coming from a very traumatic kind of background, the earth and nature spoke to me,” explains Taylor, sharing memories of himself as a shoeless boy launching from the front porch of his dilapidated home into mud puddles.

“I can still feel the thick, soft earth gushing through my toes. Even on hot summer days, when the earth was parched and cracked, I would take a stick and draw in it. I didn’t really know how comforting those memories were until I became an adult.”

The Method

After gathering dirt, Taylor sifts it into a fine grain, mixes it with gesso as a bonding agent, and applies it in layers over large sheets of heavy cold-press paper.

Before each layer dries completely, he paints reductively — scratching out his vision with twigs, sticks, wires, yard rakes, teaspoons, high-pressure hoses, fingers, and fingernails.

He once completed an entire painting with only a rake.

Between layers, Taylor soaks the paper in water overnight. He believes his process emulates agriculture.

“Farmers and I both turn over the land and plant in the land. We both hope to create things out of the earth. I am a farmer’s son, though I suppose you would say I’m more like a sharecropper’s son. My father was never allowed to own anything.”

As Taylor developed his process, he came to think of it as a unique form of shorthand, dubbing it “primitive scripture.”

Lately it’s becoming a form of sculpture as well. He’s been twisting his paintings into three-dimensional shapes.

“That was a natural progression. Even in two-dimensional work, I was painting by removing material, the way a sculptor does with marble.”

The Grace

Taylor considers it an act of grace that he survived his youth and found his way to Iowa and Fort Dodge.

“Grace to me means many things — beauty, elegance, style, yes. But it also means mercy and unmerited favor,” he says.

“It’s a miracle I grew up and am sitting here. There was so much poverty, so much disease there. And racism. I was 10 years old when Martin Luther King was assassinated. It wasn’t a good time there then.”

(Read more Mining the Spirit)

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