SU senior explores biracial identity through art

Senior explores biracial identity in art

Step into the SU senior's studio to see how the hybrid nature of his art helps him explore and understand himself.
Published: February 23, 2019
Nathan Taylor, a senior in studio arts, inks his stone in preparation to make a lithoraph at the Comstock Art Facility on November 14, 2018
Nathan Taylor, a studio arts senior, inks his stone in preparation to make a lithograph at the Comstock Art Facility on November 14, 2018.

When Nathan Taylor was around 5 years old, he called his dad out of the house to show off his latest artwork.

“I was like, ‘Dad, dad, look at what I’ve done—look at the thing that I’ve made,’” Taylor said. “As it turns out, I had taken a blue marker and had colored all of the backs of the seats with this blue marker.”

Taylor said he was so happy with his work that his father, D’Wayne Taylor, couldn’t get mad.

“He was kind of just like, ‘Oh, good job, sweetie,’” Taylor said.

Taylor, a studio arts senior at Syracuse University, said this incident was one of the first signs of what would become a lifelong passion for art. Taylor focuses on printmaking and lithography, and is considering applying to the prestigious master printing program at the University of New Mexico’s Tamarind Institute after he graduates from SU in May.

His art examines themes of hybridity, drawing on Taylor’s biracial heritage (his mother is white and his father is black) and his fascination with biological specimens.

“I started playing with this idea of my own identity and my own hybridity, as a biracial entity, always kind of feeling like I’m this amalgamation of these two sides, and never really being sure where I belong or where I’m from,” Taylor said. “I started playing with these ideas of making these worms, these mythological hybrids, these chimera-esque creatures … and addressing this question that I always get as a mixed person, which is, ‘What are you?’”

Taylor grew up with his twin brother, Trevor, in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. In middle school, he became fascinated with drawing cartoon characters and concept art for video games. He was known as the “art kid,” and peers often asked him to draw their favorite superheroes. In 2012, he helped create mosaics for the interior of Chicago’s Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.

When he reached high school, Taylor said his mother, Michelle, tried to convince him to study engineering instead of art. It would be more stable as a career than art, she told him.

“I met with an old mentor of mine, and I told him I had this shift, where I was like, ‘Oh, I want to be an engineer,’ and he just looked at me, and he was like, ‘No. You’re going to be an artist,’” Taylor said. “And it just kind of like clicked, and I was like ‘Yeah, I’m going to be an artist.’ And so ever since that moment, there’s never been a doubt in my mind.”

His brother said printmaking as a craft is well-suited to Nathan’s temperament. When Nathan was growing up, he had a “short fuse,” but he has since channeled much of this energy into a passion for his art, Trevor said.

Studio arts senior Nathan Taylor shows how he focuses on hybridity and his biracial roots with his work.

“Part of the reason why he got into printmaking in the first place is that the methodology involved in printmaking is something that he really appreciates,” Trevor said. “I think that he likes that structure. Even though his artwork tends to be more abstract, there’s a process to that abstraction.”

Taylor describes himself as a perfectionist. It’s a tendency that serves him well in printmaking, which involves hours of repetitive work —sketching, sharpening, etching, inking, soaking, pressing — and where even the slightest error can create massive problems that are impossible to undo.

“The first time I did lithography I inevitably ended up printing three different images because I had to restart so many times,” Taylor said.

Despite holding down a work-study job at the Carrier Dome, Taylor said he often spends as many as 12 hours a day in the printmaking studio at the Comstock Art Facility.

Dusty Herbig, an associate professor of studio arts who specializes in printmaking, said Taylor’s commitment is unusual even among art students at SU.

“His work ethic is unparalleled,” Herbig said. “The kid works almost a full-time job at the Dome, yet … he’s always here. He must work from midnight to 6 a.m. at the Dome. He gets a lot of respect in my eyes because he works his ass off.”

Herbig said Taylor’s hard work has already paid off. Since he started at SU, Taylor’s skills have developed “immeasurably,” Herbig said.

Herbig said that Taylor had the talent and drive to stand out among the hundreds of would-be printers competing for just a handful of jobs.

“The way you be the best is to outwork them, outsmart them,” Herbig said. “And Nathan has those values that you can’t teach. He’s got a natural artistic talent that lends itself to going on to the next level. … It’s going to be exciting to see where he takes it.”