Back to School Season opened at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on August 11, 2015. As the name suggests, school, in an ontological sense, was the binder for the eight artists in the exhibition: Thomas Dahlberg, Stephen Clark, Erin High, Lauren Jefferson, Minsol Kim, Jinie Park, myself, and Henry Taylor. Seven of us had all just graduated from the LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting where Taylor had been one of our visiting artists.
This idea of perpetually going back to school was nowhere more evident than in the work of Taylor. I reached out to his assistant the summer before my second year of grad school thinking my invitation would immediately be met with a polite rejection. Typically West Coast artists visit West Coast schools and vice versa. But to my surprise, Taylor agreed to stop by Baltimore via London before heading back home to Los Angeles. After spending time with him, it was no longer a surprise he’d accepted our invitation. Not only was Taylor’s mentorship under the late painter James Jarvaise a pivotal influence in his career, but he’s managed to remain a student of painting. Never content resting on his status as a blue chip artist, he’s constantly taking himself back to school, even if that means the occasional diversion to the principal’s office. He continues to be someone we all look to. We’ve stayed in touch, and I was lucky enough to include him in the show.
Over those two years in Hoffberger, the seven of us were constantly being forced to question the nature of our position in a “painting only” program. After so many declarations of painting’s death, and its subsequent revivals, we stayed close to an understanding of painting as an autonomous language — which meant never having to defend it.
That language became our primary source of creative communication over the course of two years. We were revisiting the same question: “Am I communicating what I want to communicate?” If the answer was no, we were never hesitant to revise, even if that meant starting from the ground up. Instead of attempting to develop a defining style, we focused on using painting as a means to a communicative end. This is something I really admire about Taylor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show of his where the work didn’t speak, even from piece to piece. If one painting needs to be about regret, then it’s there on the wall. But beside it there might be a painting about his adoration of a family member. In a recent interview with Jennifer Samet for Hyperallergic, Taylor said, “It’s more about starting to realize you are free. Who is stopping you? You CAN go there. On the other hand, sometimes I just want to paint my son, or my mom, or my grandmother. And I have time for that. If I feel it, I do it. Am I being too complacent?” I suppose I already gave my answer to that last question. As it happened, Samet visited the Hoffberger School for final reviews on her way back from Los Angeles where she had just met Taylor for his interview.
The show itself would not have been possible without the assistance of our director, Joan Waltemath, the generosity and vision of Harvey, Sangram Majumdar, Samet, AC Hudgins, and Taylor. As for the seven of us, it is a rarity in our field for a group to become as close as we did, and we knew that was an asset going out.
Michael Evans is a 2015 graduate of the LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting who continues his studio practice in Baltimore.