GALERIE DÜSSELDORF: 25th Anniversary Year Exhibition
- A Dedicated Tribute : Howard Taylor 1918 - 2001 -Exhibition Dates : 11 November - 16 December 2001
Howard Taylor in Northcliffe Studio WA : Photo John Austin
Scroll down to read Obituaries by Tony Russell, Daniel Thomas and Dr David Bromfield
HOWARD HAMILTON TAYLOR
1918 - 2001
(by Anthony K Russell A.M)
Howard Taylor lived the most perfect, most complete life of art, and his unique personal vision from the beginning went far beyond the conventions of self-expression. It was as if he sensed the extraordinary power and purity of that vision was to become a life task which placed on him intellectual demands and a creative discipline which was to shape and define his creative life for more than fifty years.
That he lived this extraordinary life, as an Australian in Australia, and for the greater part in comparative obscurity, adds an enormous feeling of poignancy to his passing because he, more than any other Australian artist, perhaps even of any other naturalist or scientist or compassionate interpreter of the magical Australian landscape, sought and found the very essence of that landscape. It is that extraordinary enunciation and richly orchestrated revelation of the life, structure, rhythms, light, colour and movement of that landscape which not only gave us his revelations but, in its making, some of the most stunning and original visual images of the past century.
The Artist as Craftsman
In the 1950s and early 1960s, few, if any, of his contemporaries comprehended his unique images and even less his apparent obsession with the craft of making art. The sheer integrity that he demanded of his making and doing skills at every stage probably discomforted many of them, especially at a time when artists were being easily seduced by modern quick fix materials and where speed and convenience of art working in search of instant gratification was becoming the norm. Whilst that would have been reason enough for this consummate master to follow this road, his inspiration sprang from a much more profound source and that was his passion for the perfection of the subject matter of his art. It was as if his subject was in continual dialogue with him, constantly demanding that he push the limits of his creative skills until he had effected that most perfect closure to the visual problem, or it was set quickly aside for another time. It was here in his beloved bush block of Aldersyde at Bickley where this gentle man, a father of two girls and a boy, with his lifelong soul mate Sheila lived their lives and shared in the magic of those achievements.
Yet it was also here, in this isolated, sun drenched corner of the Western world, that this remarkable man in the second half of the twentieth century, in his quest for the most perfect crafting of his art and his interpretation of the life force which filled his vision, undertook a personal voyage of rediscovery of the most intimate craft skills embedded in the art of early Europeans.
He sought out the most intricate secrets of the great Mediaeval painters and craftsmen in order to help coax into life the response of his available materials to the demands of his artistic vision. As his deepening knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of light and colour took him further into the Australian landscape, so too did his exquisite preparation for painting reach to higher and higher levels. This period saw the completion of a remarkable series of bush studies all painted after the exact manner of the early European egg tempera masterpieces, but his genius lay in the way in which he had exploited the capacity for this medium and technique to solve and advance his constant struggle to capture the most subtle phenomena of light and colour.
The architecture and foundations of those brilliant early years shines through every subsequent period of his prolific artistic development. Whilst he showed his work at frustratingly long intervals during the first three decades, this was not, as many suggested, part of the eccentricity or other-worldness of the man. These intensive periods of development could be likened to passionate love affairs, intensive, totally demanding, but like any deep commitment, they were not publicly declared until they had fully run their course. Each exhibition was like a journey through the mind of the artist and for the growing numbers of followers they became exquisite books of instruction.
The Artist in Public
It was inevitable that Taylor would escalate the scale of his works. Whilst he retained his lifelong love of making small, intimate and ephemeral studies, his sheer capacity for spatial investigation led him to make increasingly larger constructed paintings and then the large free standing works. As in all other things, his purpose for sculpture went far beyond those of his contemporaries, and in many ways those strongly held convictions made for nervous patrons.
One of the countless personal pleasures this wonderful human being gave me during our lifelong friendship was the opportunity to commission, or oversee the commissioning, of several of his major works of art in public. It is a sad reflection on the continuing lack of sensitivity of too many of our civic leaders, politicians and even many professionals that the Taylor public sculptures were never accorded the duty of care they deserved. They were, like everything else he touched, works of exquisite simplicity but also of subtlety and strength. Again the legacy of his artistic craftsmanship, truth to materials and processes placed his work at the forefront of Australian achievement.
Yet also this field of achievement revealed the gentleness, compassion and sensitivity of Howard Taylor and his modesty. Where so many others, irrespective of their creative excellence, felt impelled to impress their ideas and demands on their patrons, he always gave his total and abiding commitment to the making of the art itself. He deeply appreciated the honour and joy of making the work and such was the quality of his proposals that they spoke for themselves, directly and compellingly. He never compromised, he never had need to, but if things went wrong, as they did from time to time, he patiently made it right or accepted the outcome with quiet forbearance.
The Artist as Teacher
Too little is known of this man’s contribution to the lives of many young artists, craftspersons, designers and architects. Yet he played a decisive role in the reformulation of art and design education throughout the late 1950s to the mid 1960s in Western Australia when our friendship began as teachers in the rusticated studios of the old Perth Technical College. Whilst it was to become my lifework as the architect of the new programs and the rapid growth of a modern art and design education which created the later schools first at the Western Australian Institute of Technology, and later Curtin University, it was the presence of this fine colleague which gave me the courage to pursue the course I took.
Whilst I was deeply impressed with the artist as teacher, it was not until I spent my first time with him and his family at the rambling homestead of Aldersyde and saw the first of his many works in progress that the extraordinary artistic dimension of this quiet and retiring man revealed itself. It was not simply the presence of so many art works in all their diversity, paintings, drawings, constructions and finely wrought maquettes, but the way in which the idea of his command and ownership of this fabulous domain of inventions and ideas overtook one’s senses. He talked gently and sparingly about his work, and only when a direct and simple question was asked, but his language was as incisive and economical as any of the lines in the many thumbnail sketches and studies that demanded investigation at every turn.
Every piece of work and every stage of work in progress commanded one’s attention and it was never a fleeting or transient encounter. Each visual encounter was transformed into an elegant instruction and often one that would reappear with subtle variations in other works, as if in dialogue, one with the other.
When he was with students, an air of extraordinary peace and warmth pervaded the atmosphere, as he gently coaxed their ideas into expression, but his finely tuned craftsmanship never allowed them to get away with any slipshod or flashy responses to problems in art. At a time when slick, synthetic materials and short-cut methods of preparing to make art were finding wide acceptance, he prepared a series of intricately designed panels which not only physically demonstrated every nuance of the potential behaviours of correctly planned and prepared palettes, but also analysed the actual performance of every kind of pigment, on every kind of ground under the specific climatic conditions in which Australian art was made.
The first systematic and effective teaching program on colour theory and practice was also brilliantly devised by this superb teacher, in the form of a three-dimensional demonstration model which went far beyond the then existing rigid, theoretical models of Ostwald and Munsell. Grounded in his own painterly crafts, it represented the outcomes of his many years of tireless and disciplined investigation of the phenomena of light and colour. For those students who had the wit and integrity to acknowledge his authority and unique insights, these were truly precious experiences.
Whilst he often protested his role as a teacher, his generosity in sharing his creative energy with others included other disciplines, such as architecture, within the embryonic Western Australian Institute of Technology, where the academic leadership then had the creative sensitivity to recognise the originality and designerly powers of this teacher and artist. Although he was by now beginning to reduce his contributions to formal education as his personal practice absorbed more and more of his energy, he sustained this activity for several years, even travelling to Perth after the dramatic move from Bickley to Northcliffe, to ensure that these interdisciplinary links were sustained and that the critical creative links between art, design, and the built environment were restored.
His Place in Australian Art
Howard Taylor was an Australian and his brilliant gifts and stunning vision was totally focused on the depiction of his beloved Australian bush. His vision, however, went far beyond the focus of any painter before him, in that none of them, irrespective of their unquestioned brilliance, ever interrogated and captured the complexity of structure, the ephemeral quality of its light and colour, or the rich and subtle patina of its living forms, as he did.
From the first days of my encounter with him, surrounded by his work at the idyllic bush home and studio at Aldersyde, and then with the unfolding of each of his exhibitions, I realised that this vision was not an Australian vision, either, but came from an intellect and spirit that was totally uncluttered by any artistic convention, let alone the myths and folklore of Australian art. He was a universal artist who possessed a serene faith in his own creative strength and the truth of his vision. He had no conceits and made no claims or demands on his society and he lived a life of perfect harmony with his work, his lovely wife Sheila, and three sturdy Australian kids, Brett, Hilary and Penny.
He was warm and generous to students and concerned for the well being of all of his teaching colleagues. I never ever heard him engage in the temperamental and hurtful behaviours that so frequently plague the company of many ambitious and self-congratulatory artists in our society. That many people on discovering this precious human being in their midst for the first time should have found this serenity, kindness and humanity incongruent with the magical artistic achievements of the man, perhaps serves to underline the universality of his art and the uniqueness of his gifts and vision.
He was a true friend and loving, generous mentor and in this moment of loss I give my deepest thanks to Sheila, who shared the journey with him, for her courage and selfless support through the long years of the world’s neglect; for Hilary and Penny who each in their own way gave their love and constantly expressed their appreciation, support and pride, what a wonderful childhood they lived with such a man; and for Brett, whose strong hands, and brave heart worked side by side with his father to help create so many of the major works, father and son together, I thank you too, for you must be so proud.
Australia has lost its greatest artist, a truly visionary human being, the like of which we may never see again.
Anthony K Russell A.M. August 2001
Tony Russell was for many years Head of the School of Art & Design (WAIT and Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia)
Taylor, for Time and Tide, The Australian, 2 August 2001 - by Daniel Thomas]
written by Dr David Bromfield for The West Australian July 2001
Hamilton Taylor, O.A. Victoria 29 August 1918 - Perth 19 July 2001
Dr David Bromfield