In Henry Taylor’s figurative paintings of Los Angeles, the event is the black body in Los Angeles, the event to be or to exist in relation to. Born in Oxnard California, Henry Taylor has witnessed the black body in Los Angeles as outsider and insider, with the cultivated freedom to make this body central to his art. He asks us first to see this body, a body often not as important as the Colossus, the city itself. As fellow witnesses of the black body, he compels us to act.
Is he asking us to love the black body, or just to see the black body (a body that he does not only paint in black color)? Taylor never seems to be arguing anything about the black body other than about the presence of the black body. Is he then asking us to love the presence of the black body, and to make this love central to our thoughts and citizenship, or how we go about attempting to shape our collective life? Perhaps he is asking us to witness the black body, the extent of both a triumph and a catastrophe and to, to quote Fannie Lou Hamer, not have a minute for hate. The colossus that is Los Angeles has waged a war on drugs, and is a pole of the New Jim Crow in a way that very few cities are. Presently, as Taylor paints, this black body is often poor and plunged into a life of time conditioned by this poverty and space in which to program or strategize one’s blackness. It’s a shame what LA has done to black persons (39 percent of the homeless, now only 9 percent of LA city) and it’s the same case for LA county.
What are Taylor’s black bodies waiting on? A comparison to Edward Hopper’s paintings points us in the direction of quiet, solemness, and survival strategy. Here there isn’t the vibrancy of for example Romare Bearden’s Harlem or Robert Colescott’s south. Instead very few bodies are found on Taylor’s frames navigating background, in other words “being black in America” and attempting to survive as such.
The presence of the black body is the presence of America itself, the body being able to symbolize life and nation in a way that flag cannot. The presence and persistence of Taylor’s painting also presents America and its odious contradictions: that capitalism and white supremacy produces collectors for Taylor’s work but very little love for the black body, a body mostly unchanging throughout the years on Taylor’s work. When will it change? When the figure of the black person manifests the prosperity of our ethics, love, and practice, and not the mendacity and hyper-hypocrisy of identity politics in LA, a city governed by the Democratic Party.