Whitehot Magazine

Interview with Taylor O. Thomas

Image courtesy of the Artist and LAUNCH F18 (New York).

By SAM TRIOLI, February 2021

Opening in late 2020 at LAUNCH F18 (New York) was a new viewing room focusing on a new series of work by Tampa based artist, Taylor O. Thomas. With vibrant, and remarkably expressive new paintings, Taylor came out of months of quarantine with an explosively expressive energy that she carried through right into her work. The title of her viewing room, Period Comma Sunset is a snapshot of 2020 from her perspective, capturing the warped and unpredictable sense of time, day in and day out.

SAM TRIOLI: How did the Period Comma Sunset series begin?

TAYLOR O. THOMAS: Period Comma Sunset is a series that revolves around my experience of the pandemic and 2020 as a whole, but the first work actually began in 2019 (and was finally completed one year later). I had just had wrist surgery on my dominant painting hand, so approaching smaller works on paper felt more manageable than tackling a giant canvas. I needed the immediacy and ease of a gestural image upon a thin surface to express myself during that season. “Screened” was the work that I began out of that place.

Fast forward a year, and I found myself in a similar position of recovery, but a type of recovery that we were all propelled into together– a global pandemic, a widespread instability, a longing for a “normal” that grew less and less guaranteed. Continuing to work on paper for this show felt perfectly fitting amid the circumstances– again, I needed something accessible, direct, and unintimidating. I remember emailing Sam, one of LaunchF18’s directors, and typing him an essay about how these paintings on paper would come together as my reflection over the pandemic. The smaller scale, dynamic works truly helped me process (not just mentally, but physically) all the differing emotions, questions, and concerns I had upon entering my studio each day last year.

Image courtesy of the Artist and LAUNCH F18 (New York).

ST: Were there any specific paintings or painters you were thinking about when you started this body of work?

TOT: I wasn’t thinking as much about specific paintings I was about installations I’ve seen and the idea of diverse images living among one another cohesively. Painters like Charline von Heyl, Laura Owens, and Amy Sillman are great examples of women who have created paintings that can not only be viewed independently– as isolated images against otherwise blank walls– but also as a collection of moments, however related or seemingly unrelated their content or surfaces may be.

I decided that my “boundaries” for Period Comma Sunset would be that every work would match in size (30x22 inches), orientation (portrait), and surface (paper). Within those limitations, I wanted the works to vary and offer a range of palettes, techniques, and forms. Because, after all, if they were indeed going to be an embodiment of myself and my experiences, they needed to reflect the widely inconsistent moods and conditions that I brought with me to the studio each day. This exhibition became a space for me to weave together multiple ideas into a coexisting whole.

ST: Do you consider your work to be lyrical in any way?

TOT: I certainly relate to the idea of lyricism in terms of the way my works provide outlets for self-expression, physical and mental dialogue, and the exploration of my human condition and experience. That said, amid the emotional and expressive aspects of my practice, there is an equally important dependence on process, materiality, and experimentation that doesn’t necessitate the lyrical. A work, for me, can be initiated by my intentions and emotions, but it can also develop in a completely different direction based on what occurs on a material and optical level. I often make intuitive decisions based on how colors interact or how various mediums provide unexpected marks and textures. In those instances, it’s the act of painting itself that takes over and motivates me to complete the works. Still, I always find that it is through those very acts (where I’m thinking more about the painting itself and less about what I’m trying to say through the painting) that I end up with an image that expresses something exactly right, and not exactly planned.

Image courtesy of the Artist and LAUNCH F18 (New York).

ST: What aspect of your work is most important to you?

TOT: Process is key to me, my evolving practice, and my works. Being in the studio and making space for exploration allows me to tap into an aspect of myself where my mind and body seem to move in tandem (which doesn’t always feel like it’s the case in life outside of my studio space). That connection between materials-body-mind feeds into the way I paint and the intuitive steps I take to create an image. I’m a planner in every other aspect of my life, but in painting, I can’t seem to master the art of following my own instructions– regardless of whether I have an idea for a piece or not, I have to dive into a painting head-first, otherwise it becomes stiff and I ruin it before it begins.

ST: How do you see Period Comma Sunset connecting to your other bodies of work? 

TOT: I think this show and the process of creating it encapsulates what I’ve been attempting to do with my works for a while now– to truly create a “body” out of diversely-painted-but-inevitably-related parts. I’ve always approached my practice with an undercurrent of experimentation and intuition, but Period Comma Sunset helped me unify my painterly approach with the specificity of curatorial arrangement and spatial awareness. It wasn’t just a matter of making works that could hang nicely in a show– it was about the process of determining how one image, color, or surface could drastically change when positioned next to another surface it hadn’t been paired with before. It’s easy to get used to viewing works as these isolated, independent moments, especially with social media functioning as one of our main viewing methods. But this show hinged upon how artworks can be autonomous and yet interrelated at the same time. My hope is to expand more and more on this idea within my practice as the years go on– being willing to step away and look the network of relationships among my individual paintings as an everchanging work in and of itself.

ST: Walk us through a typical day in the studio?

TOT: I’m trying to get back into the habit of being a morning studio person, but most recently my practice has looked like starting each day by centering myself via yoga/journaling/mundane tasks and then heading to the studio mid-day. The first thing I do when I get to my studio door is take off my shoes– I am notorious for killing all my Nikes by failing to take them off before it’s too late and they’re covered in paint. There’s something ritualistic about putting on my painting jumpsuit and paint-laden sneakers; it gets me moving and shifts my mindset into work mode. Next, I enter the process of *starting* to clean. This act of tidying up automatically gets my hands dirty, so before I know it (and well before the space is actually clean), I find myself painting.

Sometimes I’ll go in with a specific idea of which artwork needs the most attention, but more often than not I let myself fall into the painting process by studying the room and seeing which works bother or attract me most. It’s usually the things that stick out like a sore thumb that I veer toward first– I hate leaving images unsettled (which is ironic for a painter whose process is as disheveled as mine).

Rather than working on one painting at a time, I surround myself with multiple canvases on the walls and floor. This helps me to keep in mind how and in what ways the works are speaking to one another. A mark or color I lay down on one surface informs the decisions I make on the surface to its right or left. My studio sessions involve hours of bouncing like that– from one painting to the next, resolving some within a day and others over months. I call it quits for the day when there’s either been enough resolution in the room to take a pause OR when there’s more issues with the works than when I first came into the studio… That does happen sometimes, but I leave knowing “at the very least, you painted.”

Image courtesy of the Artist and LAUNCH F18 (New York).

ST: What do you have in the works for 2021?

TOT: I’ll be participating in a two-person exhibition at Peirmarq* Gallery in Sydney, Australia this March. Preparing for that show has been a refreshing way to maintain momentum this new year. After that, I plan on developing a new body of work while at Vermont Studio Center over the spring. It’s been quite the wild ride of a year, so if all I do in 2021 is paint and stay healthy, that will be a success in my book! WM 


Sam Trioli


 Sam Trioli is an artist and writer living and working in New York City.

view all articles from this author