On a wall in the Rebekah Jacob Gallery appears the phrase, “We are nature, and nature is indistinguishable from us on so many levels,” an idea that embodies painter Kevin Taylor’s new exhibit Inner Wilderness, which features the animals that Taylor has become known for. In this latest exhibit, his animal paintings have taken on a new dimension.
The intricate detailing of an ape, a lamb, an elephant, an elk, and other animals painted onto canvases and boards are so realistic that it takes every bit of control not to reach out and touch them. In “Chemistry Hypnosis,” a wild cat looks out onto a lake as a tree pierces the surface with a bird feather, a human hand, and bright pink flames bursting off the branches. The details draw you in. Every barb of the plume is beautifully and realistically textured. The bright pink paint and glitter grab your attention too, but it’s the detail that keeps you pondering, staring, wondering.
Rebekah Jacob believes the realism comes from Taylor’s illustration background. Taylor attended the Savannah College of Art and Design majoring in illustration and took his first painting class his senior year. He draws first, then paints, and he plays with dimensions and brush strokes.
In “Chemistry Hypnosis” you can also see the pencil outlines of another creature that Taylor decided not to paint. Jacob says that even though he’d decided against painting the animal, he felt it had become part of the work. “If you turn over the canvases, you’ll see a lot of pencil marks on the back of his paintings,” she adds.
Inner Wilderness encompasses numerous contradictions. The show uses neutral colors but does not appear muted. There is a lightness in the paintings, but an overwhelming sense of heaviness in the subject matter. And the majority of the subjects are animals yet are personified. It’s these paradoxes that make the work so interesting.
The primate trading with a veiled human in “Barter” leaves a heavy impression. The faceless man with bright teal gloves on his hands offers up a lamb for a small cotton plant. The exchange of a lamb, which can only give its life once, for a plant that can flower and produce goods multiple times brings into question how we view other beings in nature.
Taylor uses a lamb in another piece called “Shrine,” where the fleeced mammal sits atop a rock monument that looks suspiciously like a table. Here, the lamb represents a sacrifice rather than something being worshipped. In “Shrine” and in other paintings, the animals represent human practices, but they are also us.
As heavy as the subject matter is, it’s not just for adults. “The children that have come in have been great. They go from painting to painting naming the animals and making up stories about them,” Jacob says. It’s another example of the show’s duality. There’s such gravity to the paintings, but there’s also a sense of whimsy, which adds an interesting dynamic to the exhibit.
The largest painting, “Boat,” depicts a monkey and a wolf on a boat being pulled into shore by an ivy vine. There’s a sense of the Lowcountry in the landscape, as there is in most of Taylor’s paintings, and this two-paneled installation offers the most fuel for the imagination. As the ape approaches the shore, what does he hope to find? Where has he come from? Where will he go?
Inner Wilderness has been one of the most difficult collections to hang, Jacob says. Each piece needed to be hung in a deliberate way to give it the appropriate amount of consideration and highlight the work’s provocative nature. And that meant that she couldn’t include some of the pieces that she wanted to. But rather than let them gather dust in storage, Jacob added them to the back of the studio. Away from the exhibit, these pieces are beautiful but different and offer an escape from the weighty material in the front. “Chrysalis” with its adorable sloth is the most playful. Light and airy, it’s a perfect path back into the real world after the emotional depth and thought-provoking nature of Inner Wilderness.