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Michael Taylor

By Katharine Jacobs
Was Once Funny

Michael Taylor
Was Once Funny, 2009. gouache on board 20 x 20cm.


‘I collect short fiction: it’s the same things I like about summing up a story in one painting / illustration - the immediacy, the open-ended devices, the layering, and limited detailing of characters - that I find exciting about short stories.’

Michael Taylor is a master of many trades. As a painter, illustrator, printmaker, graphic designer and lecturer, his work certainly bears the influence of illustration, his visuals often veering off with narratives all of their own.

Taylor’s most recent solo exhibition, the aptly named ‘The Plot Thickens’ at Worldart in Cape Town, is a case in point. Here, a host of small scale paintings function like a compendium of short stories, brokering flash fiction for the eye. In one painting, a disdainful-looking moose stares out at the viewer from an acid yellow colour field. Save the Drama for your Mama declares his title, the contemptuous beast taking on a personality and a role in some kind of tragicomedy in painting. Elsewhere on the exhibition, paintings become almost filmic; in the melodramatically titled Till the end, a man lies down with his cat in a darkened room, and in You’re such a girl, a rich maroon seascape is dotted with falling parachutes.


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Of his paintings, Taylor says he enjoys ‘distorting’ his subject matter; ‘giving something arbitrary a personality; human attributes’ and ‘placing things on a stage’. As such, even inanimate objects take on a personality, and a role, in the drama. In some paintings, says Taylor, ‘Chairs become the characters’.

Even Taylor’s more abstract works, which tackle what he terms ‘principles in painting’, contain a hint at some form of a narrative. A jungle scene, for instance, in which the colours have become apocalyptically dirty, and brushstrokes unintelligible, becomes The End of the Dinosaurs, while a richly layered blue colour field which conceals an aborted under-painting of a glutton, quips Recuperating from this Still Life.

Titling, then, is obviously of paramount importance to Taylor. ‘As we grow up, our name becomes more and more part of us’, says the artist. His own name, Michael, which contains a reference to God, has also appropriately come under scrutiny. In several works which refer to angels, Jesus and God, Taylor playfully asserts his divine right to make images, wittily suggesting that Jesus was an excellent dancer, and God is dashing. He’s French, you know?


‘If you ask someone to describe my work, certainly always, the label “illustration” will come up. Even I employ the term “artist-illustrator” when talking about my work. Calling my paintings and drawings “illustrative” is appropriate, of course; fundamentally what we do as artists is illustrate life, stories, and form. And as a visual discipline, illustration is concerned with image-text paradigms – the subtleties between visual thoughts and language…’

‘…Generally, I choose titles which evoke something entirely different from what the image represents, or, I employ titles to reveal characteristics that are not obvious about the subject. This deliberate juxtaposing of image and text is aimed to address the viewer’s understanding of the relationship between a representation and its accompanying title… On the other hand, when looking at the image-making process, the picture’s presence and performance is still my main concern. I like to believe that an artist’s process, both the conceptual and active sides thereof, is as much a narrative as what the image’s subject would depict. What I try and find in the processes of drawing and painting is a parallel between abstraction and illustration – how does a style turn into a narrative? I also think that it’s restrictive to work purely observational: as an illustrator, someone who is constantly exercising narrative, I find it rewarding to draw from memory.’

‘My work’s subject deals with the “burden of reading things the right way”. Just as I try and uncover things about the drawing process and its narrative, I intend that my images insinuate hidden agendas and peculiar truths about modern people and social stereotypes. The idea of "recognition through ambiguity"/"confronting by covering-up"/"defacement through disguise" is something I intentionally inject into my work...’


‘Possibly the best way to summarise Taylor’s prolific creative output to date is by likening it to his personality; his work is unassuming and immersed in the craft of making. For Taylor, it is all about mastering of his craft, whether it is a piece of charcoal or a paintbrush.’

Milia Lorraine Khoury, Art South Africa’s sixth Bright Young Thing for 2009

'A good old fashioned painter in the age of digital art, video boffs and smart-alecky conceptualists, Taylor, like Beck, is an artist at out of synch with the times. Yet, also like Beck, he’s harnessed this alienation to create a body of work that captures the ambiguities and slippages of the contemporary era more profoundly than most young artists.'

On 'The Plot Thickens': '… an utterly post-modern mix of parody, humour, intrigue and innuendo that conveys that it's best to be un-self-conscious, playful and even exuberant about being self-conscious, serious and almost weirdly reticent.'

Miles Keylock, review of ‘The Plot Thickens', The Guide, Mail & Guardian

‘Although Michael Taylor's MA(FA) degree show, “Title Sequence”, appears to fit very well into those time-honoured categories of painting and drawing, the viewer is presented with a situation where he/she cannot simply use prior knowledge of pictorial codes to “interpret” the work. Taylor's electronic flipbook series, 'Immediate Nonsense', offers a very direct confrontation of the viewer/reader's understanding of the much-debated relationship between image and text. The titles mostly evoke something far removed from what the pictures represent - a partnering of seemingly incongruous things that often characterises “nonsense art”.’

Adrienne van Eeden, review of Taylor’s ‘Title Sequence’, ArtThrob


Cape Town audiences can catch Taylor in a slightly different guise at the AVA at the end of September. The artist is collaborating with artist Joanne Halse, for ‘a meeting’.

Says Taylor, ‘The show concentrates on the relationship between drawing and collage – they’ll be small works presented as abstractions in conversation’. In October, Taylor plans to produce a new series of monotypes with Warren Editions, looking at portraiture, and will be a guest/resident artist on a one day residency as part of Liza Grobler’s ‘Visitor’ exhibition at Irma Stern. Taylor is also working towards the publishing of a series of small picture books with master printer Zhane Warren. The picture books, which will also involve Taylor writing minimal texts, will be published in the first half of 2010.


Taylor has been busy this year, apart from his solo at Worldart, the artist has appeared on a host of group shows. He produced large scale charcoal drawings for ‘Pigment on Paper’ at UCA gallery in January, works which, according to Taylor, use the opportunity to explore pure form in a playful way. For blank’s ‘Black: the antithesis of the fraudulent sensuality of culture's façade; an experiment in voluntary asceticism’ show, meanwhile, the artist produced a series of images on discarded black photocopies, scoring them to create seascapes where the toner scraped off.


In 2005, Taylor produced his first series of digital flipbooks, a series of drawings which are available for viewing online.

‘It started as an idea for a physical book. At that time – before the internet boom – it was a great way to publish work.’ The online format also added a certain narrative quality to the images; ‘unlike in a physical book, you can’t jump to the back in the online book. Images have to be viewed in a particular sequence.’

In 2007, Taylor produced ‘Nocturnes’, a solo show of paintings at WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY. This show didn’t aim to construct a cohesive narrative, the paintings rather, ‘individually elucidat[ing] a happening around the hours of twilight, midnight or dawn.'




Born 1979, 2 August

Bloemfontein, Free State; South Africa



2001 BA (FA) in Applied Graphics (Graphic Design and Illustration)

University of Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch, Western Cape; South Africa

2006 MA (FA) - Cum Laude

University of Stellenbosch



Solo Exhibitions

2009 'The Plot Thickens' at Worldart Gallery; Cape Town

'Art Amsterdam' (solo presentation; João Ferreira Gallery) Amsterdam; Netherlands

2007 'Nocturnes' at WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY, Cape Town

2006 'Who Framed Michael Taylor?' At WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY, Cape Town


Group Exhibitions

2009 'Black: the antithesis of the fraudulent sensuality of culture's façade; an experiment in voluntary    asceticism' at Blank Projects, Cape Town

'Black and White' at Bell-Roberts Gallery, Cape Town

Joburg Art Fair (with João Ferreira Gallery) at Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg

'Subtext' at US Gallery, Stellenbosch

'Printing Money' at The South African Print Gallery, Cape Town

'Pigment on Paper' at UCA Gallery, Cape Town

'Warren Editions' at Curious Whetstone & Frankley, Cape Town

'New works' at João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town


2008 'Showcase – Warren Editions Prints' at Daddy Long Legs, Cape Town

'Flogging Art #4' at Curious Whetstone & Frankley, Cape Town

'Candy I' at AVA Gallery, Cape Town

'Prints & Editions 08' at WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY, Cape Town

'Flogging Art #3' at Curious Whetstone & Frankley, Cape Town

Joburg Art Fair (with WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY) at Sandton Convention Centre

'Faces and Places' at Off the Wall Contemporary, Paarl; Lourensford Estate, Somerset West


2007 'Summer Salon' at Café Mozart, Cape Town

'The Postcard Show' at Off the Wall Contemporary, Paarl

'Artwords' at Rust en Vrede, Durbanville

'Snert = erwtensoep' at Tina Skukan Gallery, Pretoria

'On Paper' at Off the Wall Contemporary, Paarl

'SA+UK=' at Buitenkloof Studios, Cape Town; Dalston Lane Café, London

'Am I a Painter?' at ArtB Gallery, Bellville

'Paper and Me' at AVA, Cape Town


2006 'The Collage Show' at WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY, Cape Town

'Drawing Room 3' at WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY, Cape Town

'Choice Assortment' at WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY, Cape Town

'Die mees opwindende tekententoonstelling ooit' (’The most exciting drawing show ever’) at Klein        Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, Oudtshoorn

'Illustration Nation' at WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY, Cape Town

'krisp!' – 2006 at Art.B Gallery, Bellville

MA(FA) Degree show - 'Title Sequence' at US Gallery, Stellenbosch


2005 'Drawing Room 2' at WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY, Cape Town

'30x30' at US Gallery, Stellenbosch

ABSA L’ Atelier National Exhibition at ABSA Gallery, Johannesburg

ABSA L’ Atelier Regional Exhibition at Art-B Gallery, Bellville


2003 Year-round touring exhibition: 9th International Competition of Illustration

Place (of competition): Chioggia, Venice; Italy      Place (of exhibition): Venice, Georgia, Helsinki, Tokyo

‘Chiogga, Cita d’ arte’ Finalists Exhibition Chioggia, Venice


2002 Year-round touring exhibition: 8th International Competition of Illustration

Place (of competition): Chioggia, Venice; Italy      Place (of exhibition): Venice, Georgia, Helsinki, Tokyo

'G5', Young Artists Group Exhibition Life, Stellenbosch



2003 Winner: 9th International Competition of Illustration, Teatrio Venice, Chioggia (Italy)


Published Works

2005 Launch of electronic flipbook entitled ‘The Book of Immediate Nonsense’?  (

2002 Educational Picture Books for JUTA (Ster Stories)


Selected Professional Experience

2007 – Present: Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography: Full-time Visual Communication Lecturer

2006   Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography:? Full-time first year Graphic Design and Drawing lecturer

Acting curator for 'The Collage Show'

2005   Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography:First Year Graphic Design Lecturer

2004   Part-time Lecturer and Facilitator of First Year Graphic Design; 4th Year Theory of Art lecture series: 'Semiotics'

2003 - Present: Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator. Clients: Insig magazine, POLO magazine, FreeForThree, OBRIGADO magazine, Neighbourgoods Market, Daddy Long Legs Hotel, Okasie, The Drawing Room, Stellenbosch; Academy of Design and Photography, WebCT, Spier, University of Stellenbosch


2009 Haw, P. Reading between the lines. Business Day - Art (South Africa). March, p.12

Hugo, I. A necessary voodoo: the art of Michael Taylor. Time Out (Cape Town). P.106

Keylock, M. Cool way to be cool. Mail & Guardian. 7 August, p.8

Khoury, M. L. Reading things the right way. Art South Africa. Vol.7, Issue 4, p.44-45

Matthews, M. Taylor made. Elle Decoration (South Africa). No.61, p.44

Minnaar, M. Allow Michael Taylor to open your mind. Cape Times. 18 August, p.10

2006 Minnaar, M. Proof that small can be smart. Cape Times. 23 November

Van Eeden, A. Immediate (or not so immediate) nonsense.

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