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The Queen Is A Corgi: An Interview with Tony Taylor

From Makers Movement

Interview by Samantha Shaw

Photography by Dan Steinbok

We share in One of a Kind’s belief that craft can enrich our lives, and that human creativity and self-expression are worth celebrating. We’re proud to continue supporting them as they champion creativity and further the culture of craft here in Canada.

In anticipation of the One of a Kind winter event kicking off this week, we’re showcasing some of the incredible vendors you’ll find at the show. Browse last week’s Gift Guide, and join us today for our interview with Toronto-based oil painter, Tony Taylor.

The Queen is a corgi. Trump is a cat. Oprah is a lioness. If you were to paint a self-portrait, what animal would you be, and why?

I get asked that a lot at shows. I used to do numerous self-portraits before I moved into the animal kingdom, but haven’t completed one yet. I know elephants and monkeys can paint so I’ve narrowed it down to those two. I’ve said an Orangutan before because of their orange hair and beard, which I have, and long arms, and they’re also the smartest primate. Most people would use it for Trump — a big smiling orange joke. Bill Maher was sued by Trump for saying he couldn’t prove he wasn’t born from an Orangutan, and Trump’s lawyers showed his birth certificate in court to prove he was not. It’s insulting to any animal I use for him. So I’m hesitant to do the Orangutan at this time in history.

How do you go about placing people in the animal kingdom?

Recently some have had more literal animal connections or have been visual puns. In the beginning it was more of my own narrative. I was interested in the body language of political and financial meetings and wanted to portray the feelings around them more accurately. Sometimes I stick to animals or pets directly associated with the person or the country.

What sort of characteristics and factors help you determine their rank?

Sometimes I put my own political views, but I try to remain somewhat impartial. I can do this by choosing not very flattering animals, by making them either predatory or domestic, or by similar appearance and habits; eg. Ben Carson as a sloth, Bernie Sanders as a koala, Ruth “Honey Badger” Ginsberg because she eats snakes and don’t take no crap.

Oil painting by Tony Taylor

There’s an obvious humour to your work, but it’s also ripe with social and political statements. Why place the heads of animals on prominent public figures?

I wanted to summarize political meetings that to me seemed fake and just public relations related. I was interested in their body language mostly and wanted to make my own narrative up. Flamingos were the first animal of choice because of there artificial plastic lawn ornament association and over affectionate heart shapes when you put two together.

Why use the word jungle to capture your growing collection of work?

Because it’s truly survival of the fittest out there. People behave in animalistic ways.

Believe Me Donald Trump Oil Painting by Tony Taylor

After studying drawing and painting at OCAD University in Toronto, you then went on to get your Masters in painting at the University of the Arts London in London, England. I understand it was here that you really began leaning into your painting as a platform for discussing politics. How did your time there shape that shift?

I was impacted by documentaries big time during my time at OCAD and I knew I wanted to start using real world events as part of my work when I left to do my Masters. Up until then it was all based on my own photography. My medium wasn’t film so I started making images to make people think in series, a lot of diptychs and triptychs.

What sort of events were you witnessing that mobilized you to speak out?

Seeing Manufacturing Consent in theater by Noam Chomsky was my eye-opening moment and I began to really examine the owners of news media and their role in forming our opinions.

I went to the anti Iraq war protests and G-20 craziness here in Toronto, and the Occupy movement as well. Lots of people had made signs with images and got super creative with sculptures and I thought this could be my avenue to speak my mind.

You have some really powerful pieces, and I’d love to dig into a few with you…

Gord Downie, Oil painting by Toronto artist Tony Taylor

Gord Downie. Singer-songwriter, musician, writer and activist. He was an icon in the Canadian alternative rock scene, and an advocate for water rights in Ontario. Any personal connection to this piece?

He’s a Canadian hero in my opinion and that’s what I wanted to focus on this year, positive icons like Terry Fox. People that give to something bigger than themselves. How Gord lived his last years so courageously makes me tear up still.

Did you grow up listening to The Tragically Hip?

Greasy Jungle is one of the first songs I remember rewinding over and over in my Dad’s car. I have to say I have friends that were bigger fans than me and would belt out their songs at Karaoke never reading the monitor. Myself — not the best singer. The CD’s were always rotating during cottage weekends in Coboconk.

How does this piece pay tribute to Downie?

The Grizzly is supposed to symbolize courage and I knew that I wanted to call the piece Courage, My Word, so I went with that. I later found out the Grizzly was his least and most favourite animal, an odd thing and somehow appropriate. I chose the image because the items on his jacket and hat represent things important to him (I’ll let you google it), so I’m trying to keep spreading those things and keep people talking about them and him.

Steve Jobs, Oil painting by Toronto artist Tony Taylor

Steve Jobs. Entrepreneur, investor, and co-founder of Apple Inc. How did Jobs impact you, and why did you land on a squirrel to represent him?

I was lucky enough to have supportive parents and they bought me one of those new generation blueberry Macs with the whole computer in the monitor. It was my introduction to using Photoshop, something I still use. The iPod was a must in school while working in a painting class, and now the phone does it all, including processing my payments.

The squirrel for Jobs was because it’s obsessed with one thing... nuts. Like us we have really become obsessed with our phones; we’re always thinking where’s my phone, is it safe? We break it, bury it our bag, dig it out, twitch our heads around while trying to walk and text at the same time.

Illumikitties, Donal Trump Oil painting by Toronto artist Tony Taylor

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, King Salman, and Donald Trump. Ha - I had never seen this photo until your rendition. Talk to us about the relevancy of this potent piece.

This was an instant meme — lots of rapid photoshopping of Lord of the Rings references and Satanic jokes. I saved the image right when it happened, but my interpretation took a bit longer to produce, and since I do Trump as a fat cat, I thought it could be the vengeful kitties plotting world domination. I ended up titling it “The Illumikitties”, a play on the Illuminati.

Something that I really love about your work is that it calls on a response from the viewer. It would be hard to look at Trump as a cat and not bat an eye. How do you find people respond to your work?

Usually with a smile and a chuckle or laugh out loud, then I explain that they’re based on real people and they start to think about how or who I’m connecting it to and why, and then the conversation starts.

What is the most memorable experience you’ve had connecting or conversing with someone over your work?

Meeting Gord Downie’s daughter at a show earlier this year and hearing her thoughts and seeing her and her friends reactions.

It looks like you’ll be bringing the jungle to One of a Kind this winter! Who can we expect to find hanging out at your booth with you?

Snoop Dogg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Winston Churchill, Ron MacLean, and Don Cherry.

Who’s up next in the animal kingdom?

Currently working on the Man in Motion, Rick Hansen, as a Buffalo charging across the globe.

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