Josephine Taylor

Painter, San Francisco // September 2011
When I sense that an image I made has become part of another person’s visual archive, that is an amazing feeling and a big honor.

Josephine’s studio is a small, simple room that sits right beneath her Bernal Heights home, just off the back yard/deck where one of the family cats was hanging out in when we arrived. When she opened the side door to the yard, I immediately thought some things: how much I liked her glasses, that she was shy, almost demure, and perhaps uneasy with our visit, and that I might have to work a little extra hard to get her talking. These initial impressions quickly proved to be unfounded, except for how truly adorable she looked in those glasses. A few minutes into chatting and it became apparent that Josephine is not only very open and candid, but she also brings forth a certain tenacity and toughness. There’s a firmness of purpose in her, an unexpected steadiness and grit. This was particularly evident when we touched upon the topics of her art practice and her role as a mother. She is incredibly dedicated to her work, and very determined to create the time and space she needs for it. I got the sense that she’d never let anything stand in the way of her creative work; that she’d fight tooth and nail to defend and protect its place in her life no matter what. I was impressed by this dogged, scrappy guiding principle and her drive to uphold it, seemingly day in and day out while simultaneously being a super hands-on mom. Josephine’s fighting spirit also comes through when she talks about her children, and the raising up of children in general. She expressed a viewpoint that I hold on to as well— that yes, parents need to teach kids how to be kind and compassionate, but perhaps they also have a duty to teach their children how to fight, not just metaphorically, but in a very real way so that in the face of danger, they have tools to keep themselves safe. Josephine is examining this notion in the current set of drawings she’s working on for an upcoming show in January. And though I only saw one of these drawings, still in an unfinished state, it bristled with her need to render children as warriors, armed and ready for the world— which is something I think she has managed to do for herself. I certainly came away from our visit thinking, Now that is one bad-ass chick.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I’m an artist, and I teach.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I teach art as much as I can at both SFAI and UC Berkeley. I really like connecting with other artists that way, and especially ones who have so much enthusiasm for making stuff. Teaching art feels like solving puzzles with someone— eventually the work just clicks and you can see exactly how it’s supposed to be.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I mostly work with ink on paper. My work has always focused on relationships. How we love, how we fight, childhood memories, adolescence, motherhood— mostly just about family. Sexual imagery reoccurs in my work because of some traumatic experiences in my youth, but mostly because it sums up everything powerful about any relationship: desire, power, vulnerability, violation, affection, pain, beauty, darkness, closeness, resentment, regret.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
Listening: The Downer Party’s recent EP “Cities” and everything of theirs from itunes on repeat. Their lead singer is rad!
Reading: Nothing
Looking at: Ukiyo-e, for amazingness in regards to perspective, color, pattern, scale shifting, story-telling, and everything else.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
Finding time is the biggest challenge. All of the fun involved with having two kids takes up a lot of every day. I eke out every second I can, but it never feels like enough. Ten years ago, I was also really insecure about not making a ton of money or having a fancy corporate job. I’m over that now; I realized that I actually don’t care about all the things/gadgets/stuff associated with that kind of career. Anyway, I never imagined myself at a corporate job. If anything, I imagined I’d just get fired from a job like that. What ultimately matters to me is that my family and friends get what I do, and love me for it. I was super fortunate to be represented by Catharine Clark Gallery when I graduated with my MFA in 2003. They have really forged a path for me in the art world, and have stuck by my work unfailingly since then.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Having a space at home is the only way I get anything done at this point in my life. If I had to go somewhere else, I would only get a fraction of what I get done, done. I sneak down there while my kids are at school, and at night after they have gone to bed, and lots of other random times. I’m lucky I was born a “light switch” artist; the second I walk through my studio door I get drawing and I utilize windows of time down to the last second. Having this place to work lets me be a good artist and a good parent at the same time.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
Aaaahhh, my work is almost entirely autobiographical; it reveals a lot about my inner life. If not, it’s hypothetical (about something in my brain), biographical (about someone in my life), or fantastical (about something in my imagination). Usually it is all four smashed together. I’ve always made work about me because it’s what I am absorbed in, and I don’t like making work that isn’t sincere. But I hope it also speaks to being any person, on some level, since I am just a person. Everything that has happened in my life has led me up to now in my work.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
Drawings for my upcoming show at Catharine Clark Gallery in January 2012. Some of them are my “Monster Face” drawings that explore notions of physical deterioration. I was working with this idea of bodies breaking down, disintegrating and collapsing, but still held up by someone. The other set of drawings, which I’m working on now, are about kids engaged in close combat out of necessity and for revenge.

What are you most proud of?
Being a nice person.

What do you want your work to do?
Make someone feel something. It is always a huge compliment when someone is really moved by my work— like I cannot believe that something so particular to me can be relevant to someone else. So when I sense that an image I made has become part of another person’s visual archive, that is an amazing feeling and a big honor. Second, I hope that my drawings reveal themselves in stages. It’s pretty layered work, in technical terms and in terms of content. It takes time to make it that way and time for people to see it all… and I like that. I’m also obsessed with the idea that each piece has a few secrets that no one will ever know— except me, of course. I think that is my favorite part of being an artist: being able to decide what is revealed and what is not.

What advice has influenced you?
When I was in grad school, my husband (then boyfriend) Chris told me that if I like what I’m making, the odds are that someone else will like it too. That was good advice and I always remind myself of that. I also get lots of secret messages via whatever songs I am listening to when I am drawing. Listening to music is a really important aspect of my studio practice. It’s impossible to know how much of every piece is shaped by what is playing… I think a lot, especially in terms of mood. When I’m working my brain is in an exposed, free-fall, ultra-receptive state, so the act of listening to music feels like a dialogue, full of amplified meaning and intimacy. Songs are my drawing companion.

How will you know when you have arrived?
I want to make art until I die.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
SFMOMA starting dec. 2011! I will be part of the exhibit, Fifty Years of Bay Area Art: The SECA Awards. It runs from December 7, 2011 through April 3, 2012.

To see more of Josephine’s work: