Pin It
Henry Taylor, “Portrait of my cousin GF: Dana Gallegos” 2020
Henry Taylor, “Portrait of my cousin GF: Dana Gallegos” (2020), Acrylic on canvas, 121.9 x 91.4 x 3.8 cm / 48 x 36 x 1 1/2 in, Photo: Ken AdlardAll Images © Henry Taylor Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Henry Taylor’s portraits capture celebrities and strangers with equal heart

A large-scale new exhibition will feature never-before-seen works drawn from the celebrated Californian artist’s vast career

He may be one of the most celebrated American painters of the day, but Henry Taylor’s first encounter with fine art was seeing the paintings on the walls of the grand homes his mother cleaned for a living. Now, as his inaugural exhibition for Hauser & Wirth, Somerset, the Los Angeles-based artist will take over all five of the gallery’s West Country locations to present a major body of sculptural work and paintings. 

Born in 1958, his introduction to paint itself could be attributed to his father, who decorated local bars and houses and who, for a time, worked for the US government as a commercial painter on the naval air station in Ventura, California. Taylor didn’t begin formally studying art until he’d reached his 30s, when he became a student at the California Institute of Fine Arts. During this time, he made ends meet by also working full time as a psychiatric technician at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital, where he made portraits of his schizophrenic and bipolar patients. 

His compulsion to make art has led Taylor to decorate every available surface with his work – not only stretched canvasses, but cereal boxes, cigarette packets, laundry detergent boxes, and suitcases. Described by writer Zadie Smith in The New Yorker as a “promiscuous painter”, he borrows elements from a number of seemingly disparate artists and schools of art, including Robert Rauschenberg, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francisco Goya, Alice Neel, cubism, constructivism, and Congolese sculpture to name a few.

This eclecticism – part of his process he himself refers to as “hunting and gathering” – also extends to his choice of sitters. “First of all, I love other people,” he told Cultured magazine. “I love to meet them, and the fact that I can just paint them.” While the inspiration for his highly-personal work is very much drawn from his community and loved ones, it also incorporates all manner of references from a vast swaithe of popular culture, taking cues and themes from a divergent range of sources. From his patients, anonymous strangers, homeless people, friends, family, and waitresses he’s encountered, to celebrities, politicians, cultural figures, and athletes, Taylor has gathered subjects from all walks of life and even from all eras. His seminal painting “Cicely and Miles Visit the Obamas” (2017) even defies the impossibility of time and space by placing “King and Queen of Cool” – Miles Davis and his actress wife, Cicely Tyson – outside The White House under Barack Obama’s administration. 

Visit the gallery above to take a glimpse at some of the work featured in Henry Taylor’s new exhibition, including some of the miniature artworks made on everyday detritus, such as cereal boxes and cigarette packets, which form part of the artist’s ongoing visual diary. 

Henry Taylor will be available to view online from February 26 and opening physically from April 13 2021 at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset