|Morris TaylorĂÂ˘Ă˘âÂŹĂ˘âÂ˘s nudes recall memories of close contact and the range of gay male sexuality from fear to confidence. Photo by Rink.
Magnet, the gay menâs health and social center at Castro and 18th Streets, is presenting the colorful works of Morris Taylor, âBrilliance in Watercolor,â throughout November. The current exhibit emphasizes the brilliant and colorful images possible in the medium of watercolor. He says he chooses colors for their sensuousness, forms for their expressiveness, and textures for their sumptuousness. His recent works explore the juxtaposition of pure colors as well as near monochromatic nuance. He employs classic watercolor techniques where the only white is the paper showing through the transparent pigment.
Taylor told me at his Nov. 2 reception that he purposely wore a bright, loud patterned blousy shirt, leather pants, and beret with a white feather, so people would know he was the artist. Yep, there was no mistaking that! He told me that he entitled this show, âBrilliance,â because he knew he had to transcend anything he had ever done before. âI wanted to sharpen my own mental concept, so that my brush and the immediacy of the watercolor would flow uninhibited,â he said. âSo this is the freest and most radiant that Iâve ever painted.â His technique is rooted in the classic watercolor procedure â using 100% rag paper; no opaque white: just the paper showing through; no gouache (i.e.: no opaque pigment mixed with water); and the brush and paper are wet, saturated with high intensity of color. Heretofore he was using the Chinese style, where the brush stroke is apparent, and the outcome more pastel. Instead, this time he wanted to make a strong statement â dealing with big issues, human figures, abstracts of energy. For instance in his triptych of âDawn,â âNoon,â and âDuskâ (in the center, hung on the vertical in threes) there are also, respectively, âWater â Entranceâ = the beginning of creative life; âEarth â Triumph = accomplishment;â and âSky â Farewell = leaving the stage of life in a graceful way. The three figures function on several levels as if in a ballet.
His centerpiece is âRhapsodic Dancer,â with high energy as you might find during a Mardi Gras parade. I interpreted it as a figure spinning âround and âround and almost out of control. Uninhibited. Loud, strong colors. âItâs being free to be me,â he said. âFlaming Christ Childâ is the opposite. âI didnât want the traditional feel of Christ seen as a Renaissance artist might portray; but rather to have the spirit, energy, and divine force present.â You will note this is not a typical crĂ¨che depiction. The holy family is in a cave, not a barn. Three kings stand away, high up on a cliff; although one king shows his curiosity, standing almost at the edge to get a peek. The animals are being tended by shepherds away in the distance. There is no face on the child, representing a universal Christ figure â radiance from the universe. âSomething grand and wonderful that we donât understand or know,â he called it. In my interpretation, the flames rising up from the child are angels. During a pilgrimage to Palestine and Israel, Taylor said he explored his religious core. Simultaneously, he painted the exquisite contours of the human figure as well.
âCathedral Rainbowâ is based on Taylorâs experience at SFâs Grace Cathedral. âGay people are considered to be on the periphery of the theological scheme,â he said. âSo itâs not my fault if the pure light of heaven, when it comes through a prism, is refracted in a rainbow onto the altar.â You will also note the labyrinth to the right as a path of life. And the organ pipes at the left, express the universal spirituality of music. He is saying the rainbow of all people should all feel welcome in church. Universal expression and acceptance in whatever belief people may have.
The last two pieces on the wall, far right, âVolcanic Radianceâ and âCrucible of Life,â are more primordial. Fire can be destructive or constructive. It can be renewal. âThatâs how we renew the earth, get more nourishment, get another life cycle,â he said. Note the brilliant volcanic energy emitted through burning lava. In the most radiant part, you can barely see a human figure, âthat out of the crucible of life grow the great human traits, setting us apart from every other creature.â He urged, âI want everyone to get caught up in the emotion: to say, âI love itâ or âI hate it,â but have a strong reaction at least.â
The floral series, âTropical Flora,â âCattleya Trio,â and âHarlequin Lupinâ are actual flowers in existence, with a bit of expressionism added. As a youth experiencing the Depression, Taylor whiled away his hours studying flora. âI knew every wildflower and where it grew,â he said. These are painted in his same technique.
On tables and shelves at the reception, there were scores of unframed nude watercolorsÂ â some just of male genitalia. But on the far left wall remain âPurple Torso Backâ and Purple Torso Front.â They are purposely not true to color â purple, blue, and copper green-blue to emphasize the sensuality of the figure: the inner glow, the muscles and sinews. He jested, âItâs not MY fault these people are nude; theyâre honest; theyâre not posing for us to look at as voyeurs; theyâre contained within themselves, without the necessity of showing off,â he said. He told me he worked months and months, throwing out many, many attempts before he could get the proper flow of paint for these. Both were painted extremely wet, with paint flowing and feathering out around the muscles. He had to be extremely careful, molding to contours. The fine lines were gently carved with knifepoints. âI love watercolors, because my emotions can go right to the brush,â he explained. âI donât have to think a lot, and once I get the scheme, it goes fast.â He elaborated, âYou think hours and paint in seconds.â
âMale Energyâ and âFemale Energyâ are extreme abstracts. He told me the titles came much later, after he had painted them. He just felt the male and female had different energies. Itâs up to the viewer to interpret.
For more artwork, check out morristaylor.net. âThe viewers are expected to react reflexively to the pictures. Hopefully they will linger to savor the color, form, and style,â he said. âIn addition, they may want to contemplate and confront their own notions of beauty, sexuality, and spirituality. I invite everyone to delight in my watercolors.â