London

Al Taylor, Untitled: (Latin Studies), 1985, acrylic on plywood and enamel on wooden broomsticks mounted on Formica, 25 x 17 1/2 x 15 1/2". From the series “Latin Studies,” 1984–85.

Al Taylor, Untitled: (Latin Studies), 1985, acrylic on plywood and enamel on wooden broomsticks mounted on Formica, 25 x 17 1/2 x 15 1/2". From the series “Latin Studies,” 1984–85.

Al Taylor

David Zwirner | London

Al Taylor, Untitled: (Latin Studies), 1985, acrylic on plywood and enamel on wooden broomsticks mounted on Formica, 25 x 17 1/2 x 15 1/2". From the series “Latin Studies,” 1984–85.

Around the mid-1980s, Al Taylor began to extend his drawing and painting practice into three dimensions, turning chipped wooden broomstick handles and other found carpentry scraps into linear, wall-mounted (and later, freestanding) constructions. Taylor—who died in 1999 at the age of 51—carefully assembled the broomsticks into small clusters and structures that protrude out and away from the wall, like lines drawn in space, although one example in this recent show, Untitled (Pick Up) #2, 1990, sits on a series of upright aluminum rods as though floating above the floor. Taylor’s sculptural work engages in a playful back-and-forth between literalism and illusion, figuration and abstraction, never quite settling on one or the other. He also had a keen eye for the witty and the silly, and Layson a Stick (Blue Balls),1992, is a good example of the wordplay and visual gags Taylor was fond of making. It consists of three plastic Hawaiian leis drooping from a broomstick, which thrusts at a perpendicular angle away from the wall. The formal appearance of the stick was intended as a schoolboy pun on its erect nature, while the title offers both a synonym for sex (the word lay) and a homophonic echo of liaison (with its implication of an illicit affair).

In other titles, Taylor turned away from such puns toward a kind of dumb literalism, yet still avoided Minimalist-style say-what-you-see transparency. Untitled: (Eating with Children), 1986, a four-part structure comprising two large and two small broomstick handles attached to the wall, was made in response to an afternoon spent eating Chinese food with some kids. Look again, and the work turns, momentarily, from a trapezoid wall relief into a schematic figurative outline of chopsticks resting on a plate. But it just as quickly flips back to an abstract register, revealing Taylor’s formal dexterity. Even if the backstory of the work is not known in advance, or the viewer is not quick enough to work it out for herself (I wasn’t), Taylor’s objects still hold their own as abstract sculptural interventions.

Taylor’s three-dimensional objects offer surprising and sly explorations upon the well-trodden terrain of the everyday. Each work in the “Latin Studies” series, 1984–85, consists of a number of small, latticed forms made from recycled plywood strips painted different colors. These are unusual, slow works that take their time to unfold. Taylor’s references might be historically grounded in Russian Constructivism, but they might equally be as familiar as a game of pickup sticks. Yet the real strength of Taylor’s work is how closely it hews to the artist’s own idiosyncratic investigation into the possibilities of working within a familiar range of ordinary materials. Taylor’s inventive bricolage revels not in the honing of his craftsmanlike skills (no sawing, sanding, or refining is in evidence here) but in the generative aspect of working with a limited set of means in a seemingly endless circuit of possibilities. His objects are modest, although no less engaging for that, offering a spare and witty meditation on the art and act of making.

Jo Applin