Kara Taylor: new work from winter travels

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"Converge," granite and basalt. —Eben Armer

Wherever she travels, artist Kara Taylor seems to find magic, mystery, and myth. Collectors and other admirers of her work are familiar with the mystical landscapes, flowers, and figures inspired by her life on the Vineyard. Now, with her latest series, Ms. Taylor is exploring a very different landscape. She spent last winter in Cape Town, South Africa, and has produced a wondrous body of images incorporating saints and ordinary people, ghostly figures, birds, animals, and beautiful dreamlike backdrops. Although her style has remained as recognizable as ever, Ms. Taylor’s new work imparts a message inspired by her travels.

“I’m exploring the human dynamic,” said Ms. Taylor in a recent interview at her lovely Chilmark gallery. “I feel like this is the first body of work I’ve done that isn’t so personal. It’s about what I was witnessing. The human condition. I’m a sponge for wherever I am.”

Though South Africa has long been plagued by strife, discord, and racism, Ms. Taylor’s images comment on eternal human values and present a hopeful message, or as Ms. Taylor describes her influences, “Conflict and resolution. Hope and despair.”

“South Africa is a pretty torn country — culturally, religiously, historically,” she says. “Apartheid wasn’t that long ago. The racial tension is still very palpable. I think some of these paintings reveal that.”

The series is titled “The Irony Between Chance and Choice.” Ms. Taylor has so effectively captured the mood and spirit of South Africa that, although she was only there for three months, she caught the attention of a Cape Town gallery owner and was included in a group show.

“Someone who lives there said to me, ‘You really got the feel for what’s happening there,’” recalled Ms. Taylor. “’These seem like paintings from someone who lived there for 20 years.’”

The artist has created 13 images in all. Of the four paintings exhibited in Cape Town’s Eclectica Gallery, two were sold. One of those four as well as photos of the other three are included, along with the remaining nine, in the current show at the gallery.

Not only is the subject matter new, Ms. Taylor’s choice of materials is unique. She has incorporated African fabrics into many of the images, using the colorful patterns to build up landscapes and clothe her figures. Some of the pieces are made up entirely of textiles — often painted over to create a subtle effect. Sometimes entire backdrops are built up of fabrics. In other cases a bright flower has been snipped from cloth and transplanted to a landscape. The process gives the paintings a lot of depth and adds to the quality of Ms. Taylor’s work.

Many of the works have a feeling of a myth or a religious narrative. One titled “The African Queen, the Beggar and the Couple” includes both black and white figures and tells a story that is open to interpretation. The face of Ms. Taylor’s “Madonna” holding a swan is equally divided into black and white. The painting “Dove” uses a mix of European fabrics and African fabrics to represent a white woman and a black woman with a trio of doves fluttering around them.

In writing about the series on her website, Ms. Taylor describes the work as “Figurative paintings that convey feelings of vulnerability and strength, dissatisfaction and fulfillment, disillusionment and hope, division and unity; asking questions that relate to perception, character and the unknown fate of our shared existence.”

The artist is also offering large giclee prints of some of her Vineyard paintings, featuring the tree images that she is so well known for. The prints sell for $200.

This winter Ms. Taylor will return to Cape Town for five months. She will be the subject of a solo show at the Eclectica Gallery in November. This is the last week that Islanders will have a chance to see the South Africa paintings.

Also included in the current show are outdoor sculptures by Eben Armor. The towering granite pieces have very interesting lines and often feature smooth stones or additional granite pieces artfully placed in gaps in the structures. The work is beautiful and a perfect fit for the gallery’s rural setting.