Kara Taylor brings home her works from South Africa

"#3 Untitled" Oil, collage, mixed media on canvas, 70 x 40 inches. — Kara Taylor

For the past three years, artist Kara Taylor has been living and working in South Africa during the Island’s off-season months. She has found the landscape, the people, and the political climate to be inspiring to her work, and each spring she has brought the pieces completed in South Africa back to her gallery on the Vineyard. This coming weekend Taylor will unveil her latest work — four very large figurative/narrative mixed-media pieces created using a combination of photomontage, oil paint, and intricately cut pieces of European and African textiles.

The work is stunningly beautiful and emotionally charged, featuring dramatic images of women variously occupied in dreamlike landscapes. As with all of Taylor’s mixed-media pieces, there’s a spiritual quality, a sense of mystery, and a clear reverence for the natural world. With the new work, the artist is also addressing the turmoil and sense of human resilience that she has experienced in South Africa. 

“I’ve never been one who is called into political or social action, yet I so admire those that do,” she says. “Since living in South Africa, I suppose my small way of quiet action is through art, and how art is a form of communication that has the power to inspire change for the greater good.”

Taylor has been embraced by the South African art community. She rents a studio there, and her work has been featured in a number of local galleries. Last fall, Taylor was the subject of a solo show at Eclectica Contemporary in Cape Town City Centre.

The Times caught up with Taylor to ask about her most recent work. 

What is the theme of the new series?

These are about holding on and letting go. What we can and cannot change or control, both on a personal level and a worldly level.

Change can be fragile and yet also fierce. It can be gradual and it can be rapid. It’s rather duplicitous, like so many things in life. There is always a certain amount of duality and tension in my paintings.

These paintings provoke, as if you are being summoned by something greater than yourself. In the show, a room with four walls, each painting hangs on a different wall, each facing a different direction. As the figures are kinetic, some separate, some intertwined, they almost incite an otherworldly ability, maybe being called to a duty that is much bigger than themselves, called to a bigger picture — hence the scale, which is large, referencing “the bigger picture.”

Tell us about your use of mixed media.

The fabric is the metaphor literally and materially, as it is both the medium and the iconic thread that runs through each of the four paintings.The textiles chosen are European mixed with African, referencing the historical tapestry that has been woven. It is the continuum of the symbolic fabric that connects them all that connects US all. As a more symbolist-type painter, metaphors are frequent, and relate to the transient and the fixed identities that we all carry.

How has your time in South Africa influenced you on a personal and professional level?

It would be honest to say there is an overwhelming tendency to feel powerless over the enormity facing the human condition. It takes a lot of strength, courage, and confidence to live in this world today. South Africa has taught me this, and perhaps to have a thicker skin yet also maintain compassion and kindness at the core.

You’ve worked on Martha’s Vineyard for decades. What do you find are the major differences between your two homes?

South Africa and Martha’s Vineyard couldn’t be more antithetical. While things exist peacefully and rather unchanging, like a kind of utopian dormancy here, South Africa, on the contrary, is always dealing with the tug of war between conflict and resolution. Everything is up against each other, often in brutal ways, yet also in incredibly beautiful ways. It is as multidimensional as it is multicultural.

The human honesty is profound, as a country slowly healing from such a torn history, it is raw and engaging, and artistically keeps me on my toes. My experiences there have really put life in perspective. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a safe world with equal opportunity, with the Vineyard being an extra-safe and special place to come from.

Will you continue to live and show at your gallery on Martha’s Vineyard? What does the future hold for you?

I’m definitely a product of my environment. I’m certainly not painting landscapes in Cape Town, although the beauty of the landscape is incomparable. It wouldn’t be out of my reach to do a series of South African landscapes at some point. My future plans are to return to S.A. to work.

I am so lucky to have a seasonal studio space at a place called Side Street Studios. I am among filmmakers, sculptors, graphic designers, musicians, and some of South Africa’s leading painters. This daily interaction with other creatives is something I don’t get here at home. I thrive on that aspect of my life in Cape Town. I think about trying to bring that to the Vineyard — a place for artists to be together with affordable studios to rent.

There will be an opening for Kara Taylor’s show of recent work on Sunday, June 30, at her gallery at 24 South Rd., Chilmark.