In the fall of 2008, I spent the night on the roof of the Union Rescue Mission. From this unique perch, I saw the wall of parking garages which acted like a barrier from the up and coming downtown artist galleries and loft s
paces from the long suffering area known as Skid Row. I didn’t understand why 24 hours in Los Angeles’ skid row neighborhood was a part of an arts journalism class, but I went along.
Our group toured various organizations throughout the beleaguered neighborhood, meeting with community members and organizers. The walls of the offices were decorated with political art and posters accusing those in power of wanting to take this community away from those who have lived in it, to make way for the more desirable residents. Others, like the LAMP Community used the power of art to communicate the struggles with addiction and psychosis of residents. That experience gave me an understanding of a neighborhood struggling with addiction, crime, mental illness and in the name of the Safer Cities Initiative.
Henry Taylor is an artist that has been a member of the community long before the most recent influx of hipster artists. He has witnessed Mayor Villaragosa’s efforts first hand and paints about it in his solo exhibition at Blum & Poe in Culver City.
As you walk into the exhibition, an installation filled with discarded objects greets you. Broken beer bottles, plastic jugs and other trinkets of urban debris share the space with images of icons in black male culture. Tupac Shakur stares through the detritus from the top of a Makaveli Shoebox, an image of Kayne West torn from a magazine and a generic male in profile on the packaging for a “cool mesh” WavEnforcer Do-Rag. Taylor is showing the many facets of male identity.
The text ‘Warning Shots Not Required‘ boldly covers a painting that takes up an entire wall of the exhibition. A man in a white t-shirt and picked fro in the foreground stares you down. We are forced to judge if he is someone to needs to be cleaned off those streets are protected by the controversial initiative.
That same text appears in a less bold script out side the window of a couple on their couch living their part of the American dream. Children are in the distance playing. The dream or lack there of, is definitely a part of this show.
Taylor’s paintings are strong, clear in their ideas. A male figure created of a painted outline stands with the star of the Sheriff’s Department looming over his shoulder, a not so subtle statement of how a man on the streets of skid row is viewed by those passing by. Another set of paintings has two faceless men in suits and fedoras with battered chair backs above the canvases address the past with fondness and respect.
The women in Taylor’s paintings are strong, if a little simplistic. An athletic woman wearing a Tuskegee track uniform leaps over a hurtle, another wearing a white one-piece swimsuit and heels stands tall on a beach.
The children in his paintings are innocent, full of all the hopes life has to offer without the social challenges of growing up in a neighborhood where perceptions seem to have a powerful effect on their future.
Henry Taylor’s solo exhibition is on view at the Blume & Poe Gallery (2727 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA) through May 7, 2011.
******Bonus*****- When you are there, walk across the hall and peer into the locked gallery where a Takashi Murakami commands the room.