Kara Taylor: Paintings with spirit

"Whispering," oil on wood. — Photo courtesy of Kara Taylor

Talk with Kara Taylor and you will discover she is intense, complicated, spiritual and she’ll willingly admit, unpredictable. “I’m not an artist who does one specific thing,” she says.

Her paintings — all containing autobiographical elements — bear that out: Vineyard landscapes, abstracts, mystical dreamscapes, cityscapes, and interpretative figure studies in oils, mixed media, and collage. Each is saturated with the artist’s intention, symbolism, layered meanings, and influences, all rendered in strong compelling compositions.

“I have an idea of what I’m going for,” she says, “but then the paintings inform me as well. You never start something knowing exactly how it’s going to look when you’re finished.”

The one constant in Kara Taylor’s life is her commitment to her art. Since earning her bachelor of fine arts degree from Maine College of Art in 1997 (she majored in ceramic sculpture), the 35-year-old artist has been unwavering in the pursuit of her career as a painter.

She explains, “Painting is my way of understanding the world around me. My paintings are whatever I experience in life at a given time.”

After some international travel — she credits a visit to India as influencing her philosophy on art and life — she returned to the Vineyard in 2000 and for a while operated Haystack Gallery at Nip n’ Tuck Farm in West Tisbury. Six years ago, she opened Kara Taylor Fine Art on Main Street in Vineyard.

Despite the added pressures, Ms. Taylor prefers working for herself and running her own gallery: “I’ve always wanted to work for myself. From a business aspect, it keeps it simple. It’s just me and my work.”

And she continues, “I like knowing who buys my work. I like listening to their interpretations, and I like having relationships with the people, and knowing where my paintings go. When someone else represents you, you don’t have that same closeness.”

Her work is intended to be compelling, to be powerful images that demand attention. It doesn’t matter to her if meanings or symbols are understood. “It’s what it is to them,” she says. “People bring their own interpretation to it, and I want their interpretation to be unique for them. It’s not accurate in art to expect people to see something exactly the way I perceive it.… I think when people look at my work, they’re truly forced to pay attention.”

Ms. Taylor points to “Only in My Sleep,” a dramatic oil painting of brilliantly colored pools that form a center undulating shape running vertically up the middle of the landscape. “‘Those pools of water — they can’t not take you in. That is essentially what I’m after. I want you to just be totally sucked in — transported.”

She completes anywhere from 40 to 60 paintings a year, putting in 30 or 40 hours a week working in the studio at the back of her gallery during winter months. “It’s a lot of pressure to create all your own inventory,” she says sounding undaunted, and adds, “I never have painter’s block.”

Looking around the gallery at her paintings, she pauses every so often and offer brief explanations —

“‘Winter Chrysalis’: I was thinking about a chrysalis surviving the winter and then emerging out of a cocoon. There’s a longing — a waiting period to this piece.”

“‘Hibernation’: A burrowing under, finding protection.”

“‘Point of Origin’: It’s about the still point of being. It goes back to Eastern philosophy, nature and mysticism. To me, the circle represents intuition, the feminine, whereas the square is the intellectual and masculine.”

She describes the swirling, mystical shape that connects the tree limbs in “‘Whispering:’ The threads that go through the trees are sort of the life force — a spiritual thread that runs through everything and everyone.”

A conversation with Ms. Taylor about her work is a cerebral as well as spiritual exercise. “I think of myself connected to my spirituality. It’s a deep well that I draw from,” she says, explaining she has vivid dreams that inspire her paintings.

But her process is conscious and rather systematic. A strong composition is important, and once determined, she begins directly on the uncoated wood, sometimes outlining shapes first in pencil. She works on the entire canvas at once, layering the paint and developing the surface. She has begun using gold leaf, which she adds at the end of the painting process.

She often incorporates photography, explaining, “Photography allows me to refresh. It’s a quicker result, a nice break from painting,” adding, “You can really obscure things. It’s somewhere between fact and fiction.”

Another important element in Ms. Taylor’s work is the Vineyard, and she has done an impressive series of Island landscapes. “I feel very connected to the land here,” she says. “I think it’s a thread that runs through the work. I just love the New England landscape, the farmland, the vastness of the ocean, the ponds, the clouded forests.

“I guess I always see myself as someone who’s daydreaming, who’s always lost in her vivid imagination. I’ve been told my paintings have a dreamlike, mystical quality that is of the subconscious, and I try to push that.”

“Reverie,” a new show of paintings, currently running at Kara Taylor Fine Art on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.