Messums Wiltshire is delighted to present the estate of late sculptor Brian Taylor. Taylor, who died in 2013, was an extraordinarily gifted artist, fascinated by both human and animal forms. All of his sculptures are modelled from life and most are life-sized, the scale that he preferred and was most intrigued by.
Taylor was born in 1935, the oldest of three children, to a poor, working-class family. Perpetually drawing, even whilst avidly reading his library books, he was encouraged by his school art teacher and a career in the arts seemed likely, if not inevitable. After time spent at Epsom and Ewell School of Art and Crafts, Taylor was persuaded to apply to the Slade School of Arts in London. In his application Taylor wrote that he was interested in “the study of people; their psychology, character and way of life” – concerns which certainly manifested in his work. In 1954 Taylor successfully enrolled for the Slade’s Diploma in Fine Art but ‘reacted immediately and vehemently to what he perceived as an elitist, public school atmosphere’, at odds with his humble and hardworking background. Adjustments remained difficult throughout this period of schooling. He loved to work from life but found the discipline of the life-room at the school impossible. He developed an intuitive, individualistic response to the model, which, remarkably, his teachers found unacceptable.
During Taylor’s second year at the Slade Henry Moore was to visit a teacher-friend. Moore’s praise for Taylor’s independent vision marked a ‘turning point in the way his work was perceived by the school’. It is said that Taylor established an immediate rapport with Moore, saying that the ingenious sculptor was a “Yorkshire man who spoke to me directly”. One a living legend and the other a novice, the pair found companionship through their mutual interest in the formal power of early sculpture. Indeed, Taylor often frequented the British Museum to look at Archaic, early Greek, Persian and Babylonian work.
Taylor won myriad prizes as a student; the life-size clay nude Boy from Antigua earned him the Rome Prize – a three-year scholarship to the Italian capital. He was mesmerised by the city’s art collections, modern and ancient alike, including specific examples of the Belvedere Torso as well as the oeuvre of modernist sculptor Medardo Rosso.
Taylor’s acute sense of a person’s character, and his ability to convey personality into his work, lies at the heart of his contribution as a sculptor. In Taylor’s oeuvre there is an intensity of psychological observation that is allied to his powerful artistic language. This passion is something Taylor often struggled to control, and his career would indeed be characterised by an intense dislike of authority, in all its forms. Taylor was pathologically opposed to the contemporary art gallery and dealership networks; he hated showing with them. His lack of institutional exhibiting was certainly not for lack of interest from the art world or the public alike. As such, Taylor only rarely exhibited his sculptures publicly since the early 1960s and they remain best known to a select circle of friends, patrons and enthusiasts.
Messums Wiltshire’s The Revelation of the Head exhibition, (26 May – 8 July) in our medieval, thirteenth-century barn will provide the opportunity to view important works from the beginning to end of his career. These include the head of Boy from Antigua, 1958 (the life-size won the Rome Prize) and Michele – Nefertiti Head (circa 1985) as well as those which are much later: Gabriel aged Seventeen (2013) and Bella aged Fourteen (2004). In 1998 Taylor was elected a member of the Society of Portrait Sculptors and the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
Messum’s Wiltshire is a pioneering multi-purpose gallery and arts centre celebrating the creative endeavour.