What It All Means: First Notes from a Visit to Taylor Meansí Studio
by Jerry Cullum
All of us have an internal encyclopedia of previously viewed shapes and colors that we call on to make sense of the world as we see it. Itís what we bring to looking at art, and its one reason why itís possible for individual viewers to interpret works in such diverse ways, or to differ so much when it comes to liking some works but not others. Some aspects of art are universal; others arenít.
This frequently unnoticed fact comes into play in a major way in the art of Taylor Means, a thoughtful recent art school graduate whose primitive-looking painting style, plus a life experience worthy of Jack Kerouac and Jean-Michel Basquiat rolled into one, may obscure his hugely ambitious and sophisticated agenda, or the combination of intuition and intellect that makes up his singularly diverse body of work. He may prefer not to describe it, but he makes art thatís simultaneously smart and highly emotional. It grabs us in our guts and it makes us look and think at the same moment, and that is exactly the experience he has set out to give to us.
Sometimes he means to mess with our heads; sometimes his goal is pure beauty; more often he has some truth of human relationships in mind, or something he calls ďuniversal contemplation.Ē Near-cosmic perceptions may be set next to exercises in how paintings are put together. What unites it all is a determination to lead the viewer through a set of alternating encounters. Even though the back-and-forth of quietude and energy makes his style distinctive, you canít guess from one painting or drawing what may be coming in the next one.
Some of the works are about ideas, and use symbols signifying social position at one moment, or the place of human beings in the universe in another. Some are simple combinations of line and color that stem from Meansí unconscious mind, and prod provocatively at ours. Others originate in Meansí very specific experiences. All of them reflect what he describes as ďthe many facets and nuances that every person has.Ē The paintings and drawings have different goals, but all of them point in the same direction. They are acutely personal, but they use forms and images in which most viewers will recognize themselves as well as Meansí distinct and unique self.
This canít be accomplished just by walking by and glancing, so Means makes us stop. He uses differences in size and style to force the viewer to come close to see one work, and back up to look at the next one. Even the most spontaneous drawing fits into his overall wish to make his audience engage with each work in a distinct way, but with all the works in a way that puts us through our emotional and perceptual paces. One work slows you down; the next may speed you up. Quick takes alternate with languid, deliberate, complicated combinations of image and symbol. One piece seems obvious; the next may leave you wondering for a lifetime what it all really means. This isnít accidental. Itís also not a trick: Means is out to be completely honest with himself, and to make us share in that confrontational honesty.