South Africa inspires Kara Taylor’s art

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Vineyard artist Kara Taylor welcomes to her Chilmark gallery this season art inspired by three winters in Cape Town, South Africa. Last winter she spent five months there and produced 13 new paintings. “I love being there artistically,” she said in an interview last weekend. “It feeds me. At the same time it wears me out.”

Taylor said she was in her Cape Town studio painting five days a week, and would like to spend her winters there. She will exhibit her work in “Everything I Felt and Heard,” a solo show, at Eclectica Contemporary Gallery in Cape Town next November. It will be her first international exhibit. “I’m really excited to see how this work is received there,” she said.

Four of the new South African works in her Chilmark gallery are artist’s proofs with the originals still in South Africa for the upcoming show. There are also five originals from the year before that were exhibited on-Island last season for a total of nine South African mixed-media paintings.  

South African fabrics play an important role in her new work. Working in mixed media, she took swatches of fabric, cut them into shapes that she applied to figures in her compositions and painted over them. “It gives them depth, and a seamlessness,” Taylor says.

One example is “Fruits of her Labor,” where a white woman lies on her side surrounded by flowers, fruits, and leaves. Water and multi-colored layers of hills fill the background. Water, the lack of which is an issue in South Africa, plays a role in a number of her South African paintings.

The artist says she feels a responsibility to cover what she saw, heard, and felt there. “You have to be careful. It’s still a severely dangerous place. I’m not a city person. As an Island girl, it was good for me just to walk down the street.”

In the same sense that much of Taylor’s on-Island work conveys her relationship to women, the subjects of the South African work rely on women. The largest image, “Reservoir,” is a richly colored landscape with a haloed black woman leaning against a tree at the side. Her fabric dress has a vivid orange floral pattern reflected in the tree trunks at the center of the composition. White dots sparkle in the dress, the trees, and the blue reservoir in the background, and the woman’s gaze directs the viewer.

In “Ancestors,” three fabric-dressed women look at the landscape similarly patterned to their dresses. An earlier work, “Swan Tamer,” shows a haloed woman holding a swan whose head and neck are wrapped around the woman’s neck. Her face, half black and half white, evokes a sense of two cultures united. In “Apron,” a white woman wears an apron, suggestive of a servant. A black woman stands behind her and the two represent a reversal of standard South African roles.

Taylor’s Island work on exhibit consists of landscapes. “Years ago I did lots of landscapes,” she says. “I like to take a break after I’ve been doing the same thing for awhile. She has also scheduled an encaustics workshop on August 7, with Leah Macdonald.

“The best thing about Cape Town for me is the art scene, — it’s tremendous — the work being done there is by far the most honest politically and emotionally charged work I’ve seen in a long while,” Taylor said. “I was never so inspired in my life.”