The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community. They join us in inviting you to take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist…
“I’m stuck with it [art]. I try to tell my son and my daughters it’s like being an athlete. It’s almost like having a superpower; to create something that other people enjoy is a gift—to be able to sit down with a blank piece of paper and something comes off the page, the shapes form, and it tells a story.”
My first encounter with Josh Taylor’s art came when I was ten years old. His drawings were scattered across our family breakfast table. The memory is so vivid; colors drew me in. The experience was like walking into a fantastical land; layers of complexity revealed themselves. I was struck. I knew it was Josh’s, because I knew he drew—but nothing like that had ever come into our house before.
Josh was probably 16 at the time. He was my brother’s good friend who seemed to speak a language I could relate to. He had time to care about what I said—when we happened to share a moment, I knew he was drawing from a deep well. Josh is a fun guy—always has a crowd around him, listening. He tells great stories.
Let me say this: I believe that Josh Taylor could be Chatham County’s next folk art hero. Josh’s work is deeply rooted in our culture and reflects aspects of our community we want to hold onto as we encounter great changes and progress.
A lot of his work is of frogs. Frogs on bicycles, in tracksuits, playing banjos, riding on the backs of turtles, wearing bowties, swinging on swings. His frogs are us. When I saw his drawings as a ten-year-old, the land was familiar. It lived in my imagination. When I look at those frogs now, I see people I know, and the places he draws come from some hidden land inside us all that Josh gives us access to.
Josh’s accolades are many. His work has appeared on cereal boxes, in magazines, in children’s books, in a feature film, and on billboards (for the California State Lottery and the Giffoni Film Festival in L.A.—Jon Voight’s a big fan and once told him so!). He’s been the art director at Brand Fuel and now serves as creative director for J&K Screenprinting in Hillsborough. His alphabet not only has a place in my first grader’s classroom (thank you, Ms. Transue!) but also was once turned into giant flags made from sail material and marked a maze at the Norfolk, VA annual waterfront Children’s Festival. Josh’s work has been seen far and wide. But what matters to our community is that it is from here, and it lives here.
It makes sense that Josh’s art would look like “us.” He’s a townie—a second generation Chapel Hillian. And while the Chapel Hill of Josh’s youth may be long gone, he has maintained a connection to the roots of the community. Like many Chapel Hill ex-pats, he and his family have made Chatham County their home.
When Josh was a little boy he used to spend his summers with his grandmother and her two sisters in Roanoke, “watching soap operas, inhaling second-hand smoke, playing solitaire, playing with Legos, and drawing.” Aside from his mother, his grandmother was his biggest fan, and may have been the single biggest encourager of his art. After her death, he discovered that she had saved some of his “best” work from those summer vacations. One such discovery was a set of his own “hieroglyphics” she’d preserved, which he cites as an excellent sample from his “Egyptian phase.” This was also where his love for comics was nurtured. His grandmother used to drive all the way across Roanoke once a week so he could get his X-Men fix way before that was cool.
When you look at Josh’s art today, you can see these influences as well as his deep love for the iconic artist who also captured his community with his work: Ernie Barnes, who is originally from Durham. Josh has a longtime love for Barnes’ work. As a high school senior, his mother surprised him with a mounted print of Barnes’ “Sugar Shack.” “Sugar Shack” still hangs on Josh’s mantel at home, and Barnes’ influence is evident in Josh’s own work to this day.
While Josh has always had his art, he’s never been a successful “student” of art. Despite some very specific art teacher influences in his early life, he never learned (or cared) to be a formal art student. At ECU, he failed Drawing One. Twice. When his professor asked him to do a study of an avocado in which he was to spend an hour on four different tiles—each representing a different perspective on the fruit—Josh spent five hours on one avocado. When he got to class, his classmates were not allowed to critique his avocado, and soon after Josh was asked to leave ECU.
He went into education. It was teaching preschool that rekindled his passion for children’s literature. He spent hours pouring over kids’ books. He created projects that allowed the kids to explore the books and allowed him to play with the images inside. He was in heaven. Since that time he has illustrated two published children’s books: The Legend of Lizard Lick by Karen Matthews and a special project with his great friend, another Chapel Hill native, now deceased, Sam Shelby, entitled Humphrey Hops Has High Hopes. Josh says he has a few more children’s books on the shelf that he’s never put to print.
After his stint as a preschool teacher, Josh and his wife Anne started a family. They now have three awesome kids. The oldest, their son Henry, is soon to graduate from Northwood High School and is very involved in the arts community there. Now, Josh commits most of his time to being a dad. Consequently, he has adapted his creative process.
Josh calls himself a guerrilla artist. He works a full-time job so his art has to fit when and where it can. His “studio” is any place he can find. He likes to keep things neat though and leave no trace. Watercolors are perfect; they don’t get messy, and they are portable.
Josh drew all the time as a kid. In his classes, especially. He drew while he listened to his teachers. His process now replicates that experience. He turns on classic television (Cheers or MASH) and takes out his supplies. He prefers background noise and a story running through his mind. I can’t help but think that this started during those Roanoke summers with his grandmother and her two sisters. Recently, he’s been inspired by seeing his kids’ art. Turns out, the art gene runs more deeply than Josh ever knew.
Early on, Anne discovered one New Year’s Eve that Josh had found his absent father’s phone number. Josh had no plans to call. Anne felt differently. She persuaded Josh to reach out so he could know what his dad was like before they started their own family. The next day, Anne gave him a call. Josh says he didn’t miss his dad growing up; he was always surrounded by strong women. However, that phone call cleared up a few mysteries. Maybe there was something genetic in his compulsive art-making. Josh’s father is a world-class glass artist who has worked closely with the renowned Dale Chihuly.
Josh and his dad have since established and maintain a steady relationship. As a part of that relationship, Josh discovered that he has a brother and two sisters—and that his grandfather was a teacher at the Pratt Institute and the designer of the WaterPik. Josh now works at that grandfather’s drafting table—a gift from his sister. Even more shocking, Josh discovered that his great-grandfather was Kenneth Littauer—the fiction editor for Collier’s magazine and literary agent to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kurt Vonnegut (who dedicated Cat’s Cradle to Mr. Littaurer). Clearly, there is precedent for Josh’s artistic inclinations.
Now and Next: Our next Folk Art Hero
For now, Josh is creating when he can. In September, he had a show at The Dead Mule in Chapel Hill exhibiting his new work “Circles.” He hopes to continue to make art and exhibit it locally. With all the excellent gallery spots in Chatham these days, I’d certainly love to see it happen. Any seconds?
From the Artist
Full Name: Joshua Taylor
Born/I live: I am Chapel Hill born and bred, back when Chapel Hill was still “a pat of butter in a sea of grits.” Chapel Hill has changed so much in the last 20 plus years, and in my humble opinion, not for the better. We now live in Chatham County.
Favorite childhood memories: Collecting sea shells with my grandmother, and my mother reading The Chronicles of Narnia to me while I took a bath. She stopped when I turned 13.
As a kid, my dream job was/ Some jobs I’ve had are: When I was a kid, I wanted to be Shel Silverstein or Magnum P.I. I also thought being an airline pilot would be cool.
Three words that describe my art: Unique, Whimsical, Natural
I am inspired by: I am inspired by the colors and textures of the natural world. Trees, waves, sunsets, clouds, and creeks, for example. I am also inspired by architecture like old barns and churches. I love those old forgotten farm houses set back from the road.
When I am not creating art, you’ll probably find me: Working 9-5, daydreaming, and procrastinating.
Most people don’t know I/Next on my bucket list is: I want to convert my old shed to a working studio space. I also really want to learn to play the guitar.
The most dangerous/craziest thing I ever did was: Leaving a well-paying job to be a full-time artist.
The last book I read was/On my bedside table you’ll find: The last book I read was The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson. It was my second time reading it. On my bedside table is a blank journal my wife brought me from one of her trips.
Three Chatham County places I frequent are/My favorite place to go in Chatham County is: Picnicking on the lawn at the secret government facility on Big Hole Rd., fishing at the pond in my neighborhood with my daughters, and relaxing at home.
Three Chatham County artists I admire are: The musician Mark Holland, the painter Emily Anderson, and Henry Taylor, Renaissance Man.
Link to Josh’s work: joshtaylorart.com