Kara Taylor: Twenty Years an Artist


“Confluence,” 2020; 24 x 36 in., oil photomontage, mixed media textiles on canvas wrapped panel, by Kara Taylor

Kara Taylor has two homes. Born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard, the well-known artist has a gallery here on a woodsy plot in Chilmark. Six years ago, after a lengthy visit with a friend, she made South Africa her second home. Taylor now spends her winters in Cape Town, where she has a studio and has shown her work at various galleries; she returns to the Vineyard for the summer months.

“I’ve been going back because I fell in love with South Africa and I’ve created a life there,” she says. “After five years I definitely feel that I have a community there and a place to call a second home. It’s not only geographically gorgeous, it is referred to as ‘the rainbow nation. Its multi-cultural aspect is a feast for any artist.”

The move has opened Taylor up to new horizons in her work, while also strengthening her commitment to issues of social injustice. “The Vineyard and South Africa are rather polar opposites,” she says. “That is why I like being there. It challenges me in a whole different way.”

At the beginning of her process Taylor chooses textiles that will go into mixed media pieces. This image went into creating the painting “How Far is Now.” —Kara Taylor

Since her move to Cape Town, Taylor’s work has reflected much of the unique culture of her adopted country. With some of her early South African paintings, she incorporated a variety of African print fabrics into her dreamlike images. In some paintings she combined Christian imagery with allegorical elements from myth.

This past winter, Taylor commenced work that would prove to be prescient. Her latest series, titled Reciprocity, features images of women — both black and white, some in racially mixed pairs — set against a surrealist backdrop. The women are draped in billowing garments that obscure their faces. Some are lying on the ground with the fabric draped over them, shroudlike.

Taylor says of this latest work, “South Africa post apartheid is still politically and socially in a very tenuous state. I think these paintings are about being seen and not seen — those who are given privileges that others may not have received because of their racial background. This is a 400-year-old issue with the pandemic as a major wake-up call. This is going to be a pivotal time. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.”

Last winter Taylor relocated to a different area of Cape Town. The move has helped her strengthen her ties to the country and the community.

“This year I lived in a different neighborhood, the district of Woodstock,” she says. “It is young, artsy, and has still got the raw grit that other parts of Cape Town don’t have anymore because of gentrification. In a way, I feel that I’m good for South Africa because I treat everyone the same. I don’t prejudge based on class or imposed historic social hierarchies. My neighborhood is a real mix of it all. This I prefer, and the participation is always there if you choose to take advantage of it.”

Due to the pandemic, Taylor faced a challenging and complicated process trying to return to the Vineyard from South Africa in March. The country had closed its borders, forcing her to go through a repatriation process with the American Embassy; she had to wait until a special flight was made available at the empty airport for Americans heading home. “It was very surreal, to put it mildly,” she says. “It was my first experience with being repatriated — ghosted airports and hazmat suits.”

As with all of her work, the artist’s new paintings comment on environmental issues, as well as human ones. “This new work is about the loss of our human connection and our relationship to the environment,” she says. “It addresses the ecological crisis as well as racial inequality. Technology is expanding on a rather exponential scale — rapid and all consuming. It feels like nothing is held sacred anymore. We have lost our connection to the environment, as well as to each other. We need repair and respect to move forward — [whether this happens] remains to be seen.”

“River Delta,” 24 x 36 in., oil, photomontage, mixed media textiles on canvas, mounted on panel. —Kara Taylor

Water features prominently in Taylor’s recent paintings. She equates the movement and convergence of rivers with the vital life source and with human relationships. “The overall theme or feeling is about reciprocity. They [the paintings] are meant to visually represent river systems — merging and diverging like rivers do. There is a source, as in a spring, and there is a point where it ends, as in a delta. Some express the underground networks — the aquifers and the tributaries that visually relate to veins in the human bloodstream. We essentially all have the same blood. We need to merge as in two rivers merging into one.”

Taylor always incorporates nature into her work — whether she is depicting Vineyard landscapes in her characteristic dreamlike fashion, or creating figurative work in a sort of allegorical, mystical style.

“Bluff,” 24 x 48 in., oil, 23 kt gold leaf on wood panel. —Kara Taylor

“In terms of this earth we share with each other, we need to belong to it rather than keep taking from it,” she says. “The human story is not separate from any other story. We need each other’s respect and cooperation and we need to review what is important in life. We must come to a spiritual reckoning.”

As well as the immense aesthetic appeal in all of Taylor’s work, there’s also a sense of hope. She’s optimistic about what she sees as people’s awakening to the problems that modern society faces.

“As artists we really do have a responsibility to use our voice,” she says. “Art is a powerful communicator. It can provoke action without being fierce or violent – a kind of passive resistance.”

Taylor has a passionate following on the Vineyard. She has also made a name for herself in South Africa and wants to spread her message further afield.

“I hope to have more international exposure for more of the narrative socio-ecological work in the future,” she says. “It requires a bigger audience, but at this time I’m really glad I will be showing this work here at home. It is needed in all communities, big or small.”

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