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Review: Henry Taylor paintings a potent presence at Blum & Poe

March 07, 2013|By Holly Myers
  • Henry Taylor, "Sweet," 2013, acrylic on canvas, 75 x 96 x 2 1/2 inches
Henry Taylor, "Sweet," 2013, acrylic on canvas, 75 x 96 x 2 1/2… (Blum & Poe )

The large, bold, unabashedly painterly paintings of Henry Taylor find a fitting stage at Blum & Poe. Spaciously hung in high-ceiling rooms, interspersed with a handful of found object sculptures, the paintings have a potent presence, with a rich and distinctly human character that one rarely sees now as a mainstay in painting.

The work hews close to a strain of African American painting tracing back to Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, one that drew simultaneously from folk art and modernism in its depictions of black life in America. (Kerry James Marshall, a contemporary of Taylor’s and not dissimilar in style, comes to mind as a like heir.)

The connection is especially palpable in this case, given the show’s dramatic centerpiece: five roughly 10-by-6-foot paintings based on WPA photographs of black farm workers, surrounding a plot of 6-inch deep soil furrowed to resemble a freshly plowed field. At the center of the plot, which reaches nearly to the edges of the room, is a long dining room table and chairs, with a crystal chandelier hanging overhead.

The conceptual association is clear enough, perhaps — luxury rides on the back of an exploited labor class — but no less stirring for being so pointed.  Formally these paintings are the tightest in the show, with a sense of gravity, a reverence even, that helps to knit more tightly what can feel loose and off-kilter in the other works.

Not that loose and off-kilter is such a bad thing. There are moments of awkwardness throughout the remaining paintings that can be difficult to know just what to do with, but they are inextricable, indeed, from the human element that makes the work so absorbing.

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Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 836-2062, through March 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Blumandpoe.com

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