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J. B. TAYLOR - Artist

1917 - 1970

Tributes & Reminiscences

Thoughts on the Works of J.B. Taylor

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"J.B. Taylor was a fine instructor. He had a warm personality and a thoughtful way of speaking to students. I am part of his legacy. His gift to me was the development of aesthetic, a sensitivity towards image and surface, which has lasted throughout my life."

Sharon Busby – Arts Consultant, Edmonton Public School Board
2005

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"J.B. Taylor was my good friend. We had adjacent offices in South Lab on the U of A campus where we both moved after having nearby offices in the old Arts Building. The offices quickly became studios and we were the only artists there, somewhat isolated from the rest of the Art Department, and we loved it.

"…As a painter I felt that Jack's sketches in oil on small panels, usually of mountain and pastoral subjects, were his most interesting works. They were very good, in subdued, convincing colour and good brushwork. I thought his larger, more abstract work, painted in his studio, felt more forced, rather like the situation of Constable. But the paintings, mostly in blues and grays were beautiful and quite successful in the marketplace.

"…Our brief friendship – 5 years – was much too short. But through his wonderful storytelling, often of his youth in P.E.I. and his wartime adventures, I felt that I had known him for a much longer time."

Dave Cantine – artist
Former Professor of Art, Department of Art and Design, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta
March 21, 2006

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"Jack Taylor was understated. He was an artist who knew where he wanted to go and he didn't feel that he had to make a lot of fuss in order to achieve his goals. He had a relaxed sense about his own importance, a subtle humour about his own state of being and the path he had chosen.

"I knew Jack from a student's perspective, and then as an artist who hung out in his relocated studio adjacent to the old Arts Building. It was in his studio that he was most at home, like someone who had a comfortable place to move from canvas to canvas without interruptions. He valued his time alone.

"When he showed me the work he was doing he explained that he was trying to get inside the emotions of the mountains, most notably the icefalls and glaciers. He was fascinated by the surface tension of ice and snow and the composition that surfaces create when they expand and contract. He was very excited by the prospect of his journeys to and from the mountains. It was as if he had waited a lifetime to explore their visual elements with the eye of the philosopher. He was the professor about to burst out of his enclave, on the cusp of a great discovery or understanding. I remember vividly when he brought out some of his most intimate paintings. They were not just works of art, they were the philosophy of nature at its most primal state. The very beginning of time reformed.

"It was a pleasure to have known Jack and to have shared some moments with him in his studio. The unfortunate timing of his passing cut short his journeys to the land of ice and snow, before he had an opportunity to explore the abstraction that was overtaking his later works."

Wallis Kendal – art student 1968
August 27, 2005

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"I had the chance to meet Taylor just once when he gave a guest lecture to a senior level painting class at U of A that I was taking. He left a lasting impression on me.

"The slide images he showed us were from his latest works of the mountains. He had embraced and mastered acrylics and through textural passages and much layering captured the strength and power of the mountains and the glaciers. These small sections of the whole were rendered into majestic iconic paintings. Each one had sections or shafts of light that felt spiritual. To this day I remember them clearly. He was personable engaging and completely ready to share his methods of practice with us. He used his telephoto lens to bring the ridges and rocks closer and worked with these images to create his larger canvases and masonite pieces. As slides they looked huge and impressive. The spirituality and power of his work in this period (1969-70 when I first saw it) is enduring and stunning and fresh even today.

"I felt privileged then to have heard him and I wonder what he would have produced if he had lived longer."

Lynn Malin – artist
March 21, 2006

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"Jack would often do painting demonstrations for his oil painting classes. I myself, and Dave [Cantine] too, were horrified at this as this was in no way part of our art background. Jack was from an earlier art school of training in which students saw their instructors paint and were shown technique and craft by way of demonstrations. In my art background this was a very strong no-no, one which I do not agree with now.

"Jack would dash off demonstration landscapes much in the manner of his regular studies (which now are in very high demand by collectors as these pieces are considered to be closer to the artists' creative process and are not weighted down by being more 'public' in nature as larger, more finished works tend to be). When the demo was over, the demos were thrown into the garbage. To my regret I never picked one of these tossed out paintings out of the trash bin. At the time I respected Jack's judgement about tossing them out and never kept one. I do not know how many students picked over these pieces and if any were kept, but I suspect a few were taken!

"What was so very interesting about Jack's paintings at that time was his attempt to create actual textures on his painting surfaces of his ice/glacier series. Oil painting can only have so much texture projecting out from the surface because of the greater drying time needed for the oil paint to dry out. Because it takes so long (months) there is a tendency for the painted surface to sag and stretch. Acrylic on the other hand, being water soluble, dries quickly by evaporation – hardens faster and holds it shape.

"At this time Jack was doing his glacier series there were no acrylic paints around other than the odd sample from colour manufacturers. So Jack used bondfast to create his weathered, scratchy and striated ice forms. Whether he added colour later after drying or during the application of the bondfast I do not know as Jack never spoke of the process.

"In this respect Jack's attempt at textured built up surfaces put him 10 years ahead of the acrylic revolution and exploration in the painting of the 1970s and 1990s. His glacier paintings definitely point the way to a new painting modality and experimentation that was slowly emerging to artistic consciousness. Although his work was primarily figurative in nature, the glacier pieces become more and more abstract, also anticipating the non-objective textural paintings of the 1980s – Jack in a way was a grandfather of these later explorations.

"After Jack's death there was a retrospective of his life's work at the E.A.G. It was there that I had a real chance to see some of his earlier oil landscape paintings. There were a few pieces from his Lake O'Hara jaunts. The Lake O'Hara pieces were breath-taking in their execution and concept. I would easily put these paintings amongst the very best Canadian landscape paintings ever produced in Canada, equal to the Group of Seven work and Doris McCarthy. It was a shock to me to not have seen the depth of Jack's artistic sensibility until then. But at least I had a chance to observe and experience it and can now reflect upon it."

Robert Sinclair – artist
Former Professor of Art, Department of Art and Design, University of Alberta
May 19, 2006

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"I first felt the tremendous impact of J.B. Taylor’s work on seeing the exhibition The Sublime Revisited at the FAB Gallery in 1990 when I was completing my last year of studies in the BFA program. Landscape painting was a particular interest of mine and I had recently completed my final art history research paper on Friedrich’s Landscape as Religious Art. Taylor’s landscape works had that same profound sense of reverence. The paintings immediately brought to my mind the wonderful lines from a song my children learned when they were young:

My country is my cathedral
The northern sky its dome
They all call it Canada
But I call it home

"In many of the works, there is a cathedral like structure with an ethereal light reminiscent of the religious art of painters like El Greco. The work evokes a Canadian spiritual connection, monuments to time with a modern sensibility. Works like Opabin #1 and Columbia #3 have a sense of the spiritual and the Glacier series, with works like Glacier #3 and Glacier series #16, has the sense of a quest for the infinite akin to the work of Mark Rothko. To me the dramatic lighting, the bold structure and composition do make the works icons of the sublime Canadian landscape."

Arlene Wasylynchuk – artist

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"...I remember very well Jack’s compact studio in the basement with lots of sketches and paintings amidst the strong smell of oil and turpentine. It was with a good deal of admiration that I viewed the sure touch of the brush on surface and the command of light and structure that it seemingly effortlessly produced. Jack, I felt, was a ‘natural’ painter by which I meant that his whole being was in tune with his view of form and space which, without over-analysis, found a rich expression on the canvas.

"...One of his favourite methods of teaching was to demonstrate by way of a sketch usually of a landscape. While explaining about mixing and applying, the blank white panel would gradually evolve through application of brush strokes and washes into a minimally suggested scene of light and color. Of course the students were fascinated as well as informed; they were witnessing a demonstrated love of the act of painting.

"…Jack’s solo exhibitions were very popular and always well attended. Most discerning viewers could relate with pleasure to the fine work of the productive side of the works, and at the same time respond emotionally to the sense of place evoked by sensitive technique.

"…Although technique altered according to place as may be observed in paintings produced in Italy, for example, when compared with works inspired by the wondrous topography of Alberta’s Lake O’Hara, always present was a consistent high quality and sensitivity of personality, a clear identity of Jack Taylor, professor in art and painter of excellence."

Norman Yates – artist
Former Professor of Art, Department of Art and Design, University of Alberta
January 21, 2006