Al Taylor

by Charles Yoder

Define "artist".

There are many stories in a man’s life. Al Taylor’s life is no different. There is the story of his conception on a Greyhound bus. There is the mystery of his Native American blood. There is the one about his abduction by gypsies as a child. Then there is the tale of the All Kansas Long Distance Running champion from Wichita who transformed himself into the New York City artist.

But the story I’m telling here is about Al Taylor’s stay in Hawaii in the late summer and fall months of 1987. He and I were part of a crew of about fifty artists from all over the states who had been hired to install a lot of really bad art in some newly constructed Japanese-owned hotels on Maui. There was a tight schedule and a looming deadline. All of us were put up in time share, beach front condos and worked 12 to 14 hour days, six days a week. The sunrise to sunset routine was numbing. In a short while, there was nothing other than get up, go to work, come back, go to bed, get up, etc. You get the picture.

I’d been living with the boss for several weeks when his drug addled, divorce minded wife arrived from LA. Ten minutes later, I was sharing a two bedroom, seventh floor apartment with Al. It had a nice sized balcony looking northwest over the water towards Molokai and Lanai. The first morning I got up at 5:30 and was shoveling eggs and slurping coffee when Al emerged. He mumbled "Mornin’" and took a cup of black coffee out to the balcony.

I watched as he lit his first Marlboro of the day, sat down, put a watercolor pad in his lap and started painting as the sun came up. Quick sketches, one right after another. The light changing, moment to moment. The wind was blowing strong. Another cigarette. Some black ink washes. Another coffee. Then he switched to watercolors. After an hour he came in, had a final coffee, finished dressing and we left for work.

Al would say that he started doing sculpture as a way back to painting, and I had seen this slow transformation over a period of two or three years. He stopped painting on canvas and started making floor and wall pieces made of broom sticks, wire hangers, scraps of linoleum and tin cans. They were so striking, so unusual and so beautiful. To this day, discarded broom sticks poking out of trash cans on the street remind me of him.

He also did watercolors and drawings, usually related to the sculpture. Sometimes before, sometimes during, sometimes after the piece was done. Al was a perfect example of practice making perfect. His watercolors and drawings were softly nuanced, surely handled and ever changing. And there were so many of them. Whenever I visited his studio, there would be stacks of new work everywhere. On every wall. In old photo paper boxes. On the coffee table. On the dining table. On the studio table. Spread out on the floor. I had never thought of the amount of effort he put into making these piles. I had known Al for almost fifteen years at this point and Hawaii was the first time I saw the obsessive nature I’d only sensed before. This was a revelation.

Fourteen hours later, we were back at the apartment. The first thing we did was make a beeline for the fridge and opened our first Budweisers. I turned on the tube and sank into the overstuffed chair. Al went out to the balcony. I watched as he lit up a cigarette, sat down, took a long swallow of beer and started painting in the setting sun. The light changing, moment to moment. He painted for an hour until the only light left was the stars. He did this everyday.

A couple of weeks later, a combination of jealousy, shame and hope led me out to the balcony one early morning and for a month of sunrises and sunsets, we painted.

It was a great time.

Al Taylor died of lung cancer on March 30th, 1999 at the age of 51. He is fondly remembered, sorely missed, and yet a constant presence.

Currently, his work is represented by the Lawrence Markey Gallery in New York City and Galerie Fred Jahn in Munich, Germany.

Al Taylor's work in Post Road