Carol Taylor-Kearney Finds Meaning in Found Objects
Posted by: Andrea Hammer
Carol Taylor-Kearney transforms found objects, including windows and doors, into art. To stay healthy, she takes walks–noticing the slant of light, textures of objects, smells and colors. Sometimes, she takes photos or pulls items out of a stack of debris.
She spreads the collection, which follows in her thoughts, around the studio.
During the last 2 years, she has used worn American flags in her work. Canvases with mixed media and wooden frames hold multiple glass panes with decals, stickers and colored glass. Most of the recycled materials are from other projects, gifts from friends and collected scraps.
“During the run-up to the 2016 Presidential Election, as I listened to candidates, I noticed how much fearmongering and hate-speech was used. At the same time, the American flag and red-white-and blue bunting swayed. I thought about my family, friends, and compatriots and the impact this bludgeoning was having on them,” Taylor-Kearney says.
“Then, I thought of Abraham Lincoln and some of his words during the most divisive period of our nation’s history:… I wanted to connect to those better natures.”
Portraits of Children: Shared Experiences and Future Hope
The artist’s vision takes shape in portraiture, particularly in images of children. She creates hybrids of actual American flags with stars and stripes as well as the colors of Tibetan prayer flags.
“For some, I emphasize abstracted patterns found in the arrangements on the flags. In others, I emphasize conceptual content. For still others, I include recognizable portraits of children,” she says.
“Children are important because we all share the experience of childhood and because they signify the future. Their actions in the paintings are the type of interactions a child has with a particular element of nature associated with a prayer flag color.”
The artist hopes that the portraits spread positive attitudes into a “fearful, cynical, and disjointed the world.” She views her current work as “common cause” rather than “controversial.” However, she recognizes that using actual American flags breaks the Flag Code of the United States, and the American flag is an object loaded with meaning.
After watching politicians wrap themselves or their cause in the American flag and seeing the flag used as a brand and marketing tool, she started thinking about the flag’s meaning for various people: those in the military, Olympic athletes representing our country and school children who say the “Pledge of Allegiance” every day. She started to look at other symbols and analogies that could be joined to the American flag to heighten a message of hope.
“Tibetan prayer flags come in five colors, each representing a ‘Light of Nature’ and a characteristic whose message gets spread into the world surrounding it as the wind blows over it and the flag disintegrates. The colors and lights are blue for sky and space, white for air, red for fire, green for water and yellow for earth. The characteristics they promote are peace, compassion, strength, wisdom and health,” the artist says.
“Because I am looking for commonality and aspiration, children are often my subject. Every person in the world experiences being a child. And children are our projection into the future. They are the inheritors of our world.”
Insights About Obstacles Facing Female Artists
When considering her work as a female artist, Taylor-Kearney remembers that it took until the 20th century for women to gain a public voice through the ballot, access to higher education and status in the working world. She urges others to recall these points as they push forward in their careers and unique expression.
“Women have always done what is necessary to cause success but have not necessarily stood to receive the distinction. Now we should both encourage success in ourselves and in the confidence and backing we give other women to succeed,” she says.
Taylor-Kearney also thinks that woman artists need to overcome their own and others’ expectations as well as biases. As someone who was born into a middle-class home, she grew up with the expectation of getting married and acquiring an employable skill.
“Saying that I wanted to be an artist translated into being an illustrator, a designer or a teacher as far as my family were concerned. Luckily, I met and married someone who could understand my ambitions. More than that, he was willing and able to assist me as I struck out to become an artist and continues to do so even now. He is truly a collaborator and is why I use a hyphenated name, Taylor-Kearney, for my art work,” the artist says.
“I am still tested everyday as an artist. It is necessary to be mindful of events in the world and what is happening in the art world…. I have had people, even gallery people, say to me that my subject matter of children is ‘so feminine.’ My answer to them is ‘Why is it when a woman paints children it is “feminine,” and why is it that if Renoir or Picasso paint children it is great art?’”
Besides focusing on children as subjects, the artist also values them as an audience. She thinks that they have a lack of predisposition, spirit of acceptance as well as an observant and quizzical nature.
Recommendations for Young Artists: Observation and Exploration
Following this approach, Taylor-Kearney particularly encourages young artists to practice the important skill of observation. She also suggests experiencing many different museums, galleries, concerts, plays, movies and lectures.
“Let your studies in other areas seep into your art work. Be curious and experimental. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of anyone who has done something that you find interesting,” she says.
In addition, Taylor-Kearney urges art students to take business classes. She recommends learning how to market and price art work, track of sales, handle contracts, network and research opportunities.
“Artists paint relationships as they encounter them…. As you can tell, it is a very personal process, and for my own I choose to focus on my daily encounters with people, places and things. Sometimes I will present them as a picture, at other times in words and still other times as the objects themselves. What the viewer gets out of them is part of their own conceptual blend,” she says.
Taylor-Kearney looks forward to the day when topics, subjects and techniques in art are not considered within the purview of being “female” but “human.” She says, “great female art and artists are those who are able to touch our soul and tell us what it is like to experience this world.”