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Fan Mail: Taylor Baldwin

Taylor Baldwin’s multidisciplinary practice could be described as an experiment in material and historical mutation. Through a combination of sculptural installations, drawing, and video, the artist investigates the notion of the object as a site of transformation, altered by intangible elements such as the passage of time and death. Though his recent works have been mostly three-dimensional, Baldwin’s entry point into art began with drawing. Some of his early influences include the French cartoonist Mœbius and the American book artist Geoff Darrow, both of whose works possess a level of detail and complexity that Baldwin later echoed in his own drawings.

Taylor Baldwin. ecto 1 (I ain’t afraid of no ghosts drawings), 2009; ink on paper; 8.5 x 14 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Taylor Baldwin. Ecto 1 (I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts series), 2009; ink on paper; 8.5 x 14 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Baldwin’s intriguing mode of historical reference is illustrated in Ecto 1 (2009), from his I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts series. The intricate line drawing shows the vehicle from Ghostbusters (1984), a movie that portrayed New York in a grim, fearmongering light along with a number of other films like The Warriors (1979) and Death Wish (1974). These movies corroborated the myth of a crime-ridden New York, where a car left alone in Coney Island or the Bronx would be stripped down. In Ecto 1, Baldwin heightens the effects of the time and place; there is more symbolism in the work: what appears graffiti-like to the untrained eye is actually an expression in hobo symbols that says, “This is not a safe place, be prepared to defend yourself and get out quick.” The artist is fascinated with recurring patterns of anarchy and survival that weave through history.

Taylor Baldwin. hobo sign language glossary 1 (I ain’t afraid of no ghosts drawings), 2009; ink on paper; 8.5 x 7 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Taylor Baldwin. Hobo Sign Language Glossary 1 (I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts series), 2009; ink on paper; 8.5 x 7 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

There is an element of postapocalyptic disintegration in Baldwin’s work. In Haj Ali-al-Qaysi/Petralona 1 (2009), Baldwin fuses two moments of iconic imagery: the Petralona skull discovered in Greece in 1960, which is estimated to be more than 700,000 years old, and a haunting depiction of Ali al-Qaysi, the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner who appeared in one of the many disturbing images that came out of the notorious prison in 2003. What do these disparate instances, merged, say about our collective humanity? Perhaps a commentary on our age-old existence combined with our continued depravity? Yaqui War Dance (2007) is drawn from images closer to Baldwin’s home. The Tucson-born artist illustrates the Pascua Yaqui tribe’s war dance, traditionally performed with deer heads before a hunt, with military planes instead. This is Baldwin’s own reckoning with his ancestral presence and its impact on the indigenous population.

Taylor Baldwin. Haj Ali-al-Qaysi/Petralona 1, 2009; collage and ink on paper; 22 x 18 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Taylor Baldwin. Haj Ali-al-Qaysi/Petralona 1, 2009; collage and ink on paper; 22 x 18 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

In Baldwin’s sculptural projects, the focus is less on historical interpretation and more on tactility. During a residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, Baldwin spent three weeks building a corpse sculpture with the sole purpose of performing a videotaped autopsy of the object. Simply titled The Body (2012), the video shows Baldwin cutting open the cadaver and engaging in what he described as a “surgical theatre” that attracted other resident artists and school members to watch the forty-minute process.

Taylor Baldwin. yaqui war dance, 2007; ink on paper; 22 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Taylor Baldwin. Yaqui War Dance, 2007; ink on paper; 22 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

To fill the body, Baldwin used a range of materials including resin, zip ties, nylon pantyhose, carpet foam, soil, paint-filled rubber gloves for the heart, fresco mush in two Lowe’s sacks for the brain, and gravel for the testicles. As part of a practice that the artist then adopted for his sculptural work, Baldwin was intentional about obtaining the materials for the corpse through a barter system or for free. Within this constraint, Baldwin sought to redefine his notion of creating work from scratch, and challenge what it means to be responsive to materials. This project also manifests the inexplicable attraction that humans exhibit toward the grotesque. What is so fascinating about watching someone scoop out the internal components of a body? The mystery behind the intangible phenomena of mortality transforming a living body into an object—a facet of Baldwin’s interest in immateriality and its impact on the physical—might have something to do with it.

Taylor Baldwin. the body, 2012 (video still); HD video with sound; 41:06. Courtesy of the Artist.

Taylor Baldwin. The Body, 2012 (video still); HD video with sound; 41:06. Courtesy of the Artist.

Taylor Baldwin is an artist working primarily in sculpture, video, installation, and drawing. He received a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 2005 and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007. He was a resident at the Fine Arts Work Center, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, the Seven Below Arts Initiative, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Baldwin has exhibited his work at Conner Contemporary Gallery, Land of Tomorrow Gallery, and Vox Populi, as well as in group shows at the Queens Museum of Art, Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Craft, and P.P.O.W. Gallery. He is currently based in Providence, Rhode Island, and Queens, New York.

 

Tags: Fan Mail, Taylor Baldwin, sculpture, drawing, comics, materiality, historical references, new market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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