Artist and Model Justin Taylor discusses his personal journey as he balances the diverse art and fashion worlds.
Gone are the days of the stereotypical mindless model. We caught up with model and sculptor Justin Taylor to find out how the two worlds have had an impact on his work both in art and fashion…
Why don’t you start by telling us why you left university…
Well about 9 months ago I was given the opportunity to travel through asia and europe, whilst modelling, so I decided to take that time away from school for myself and explore that opportunity, and thats what brought me here to New York.
What happened while you were travelling? What did you do? Where did you go?
I started by spending about 3 months in China and Hong Kong, modelling for editorials and catalogues. And along the way I met some amazing people, who allowed me to intern for them at the Gargosian Gallery and another smaller gallery called Above Second. It was the first Gargosian to open in Asia and Damian Hirst was the first artist to show there, so I was able to intern for him for a while. It just happened to be perfect timing for me to be there. And then with Above Second, I did a lot of interviews with artist, started writing their press releases, and generally learnt the business side of the gallery world.
So modelling which took you away from your art studies has lead you full circle back into an art career…
Yeah, every opportunity I’ve gained regarding my art has been through modelling, even as I have progressed to New York.
And how are you managing to work in both worlds, the art and fashion world?
I mean, it just seems the right opportunities keep coming my way and my modelling agent has become very interested in my work, and are using it as a way of promotion for my modelling.
Which agency are you with?
I’ve been with DNA for about 3 months now.
You have been quite specific about only working in 3D. Why is that?
I just like the idea of taking something from my mind and making it manifest into something that is touchable in the real world. I like the personal touch of using my bare hands to create something. I like working with fabric and metal and I have used some plaster work, but mostly organic fabrics and things of that nature.
What is the story behind your work? What are reoccurring themes?
My work tends to revolve around my personal life. Moments of reflection or feelings I have at a certain time. A lot of it has to do with transformation and enlightenment. My work is very visceral, something I might feel, something I might sense, the things which cannot always be seen.
So you seem very happy to give a lot of yourself over to the public. First of all through the personal themes of your work and then in a physical sense through your modelling.
That’s true, and I’m actually quite a shy and private person and sometimes terrified to be so exposed but I am also giving you what I am willing to show.
Seeing as you are such a shy person, do you think putting yourself across through your abstract sculpture or behind the barrier of the camera lens helps you to deal with and put across those emotions at a safe distance?
Yeah. Because if I make a piece, it may not be so obvious what I am trying to say, but I know, and so that acts as a release for me. It really does help me work through my emotions and thoughts.
I have a very good friend who is an amazing photographer, and we work well together creatively which worked out to be a perfect match for the magazine because they are all about fashion and art. We both come from an art school, he now works in photography and I as a model, so together we’re a good representation of what they are doing.
Having just completed a collaboration with a designer for New York fashion week, what affect do you think working in the fashion world has on your personal art work?
I think it depends. My work could be judged harsher because of my background in fashion. It may not be taken as seriously or respected as much as someone doing purely gallery based work. But saying that, so far both worlds seem to be as interested and as pleased as the other.
But maybe it depends on why you’re putting the work out there…Why are you putting your work out there?
Because I have to create. I feel weird if I don’t. If I don’t create then I just bottle it up. I have to express myself.
So your work is more of a personal expression than challenging something in particular?
I’m not a politically infused person when it comes to creating. It’s more about self discovery. It is far more personal than anything else.
So is that why you decided to model alongside your sculpture for the cover of base rather than handing it to someone else? You modelling was more of an extension of the piece?
Definitely. I think modelling is an extension of my creativity. I guess you could call that a segment of performance art.
For me the element of craft brings a sense of beauty which is very important to me. I am a fan of beauty. And it doesn’t have to be beauty in the traditional sense but it certainly has to be aesthetically pleasing. My work is tedious and obsessive and very time consuming. I give it a great amount of attention to create something whole and unique.
What is beautiful to you?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (laughs)
Beauty to me is about shape and colour and the formation of things. It’s hard to describe, but something that would draw my attention. Something that would make me stop for a moment. It doesn’t have to be an obvious beauty.
And do you think the beauty you create in your artwork is the same as the beauty you put across while modelling?
Yes and no. I think the headpieces I’ve created could translate in the same way because I use a lot of flowers which are often a symbol of beauty. But some of my other work is certainly more “ugly beautiful”. It’s still striking but in a very different way. It isn’t glamorous or as obvious.
And what about your use of colour?
Colour is important to me because colours translate emotions to the viewer, and I often dye the fabrics and yarns myself so that I am able to customise and further the personal element of the work.
A lot of your sculptures are very bright and colourful. Does that mean you’re in a very happy place? Are they a direct representation?
No not necessarily. I’m generally a pleasant person but like everybody I have my ups and downs. The headpieces are generally quite colourful because I treat them like crowns. Crowns are often gifted to someone tend and to be a sign of prestige and beauty. And just because something is bright, doesn’t necessarily mean it is a sign of happy. Bright purple for instance is a tone of blue which is generally a sad and cold colour or a sign of reflection.
You mentioned the theme of transformation in your work. Can you tell us a little more about that? Is it a personal transformation you’re referring to?
The transformation theme has always been present, even more so before I left for China. There were a lot of situations and changes that I was left to deal with on my own. Which is why I decided to take the time away from school and do this. The phoenix became a huge figure in my life, the subject of death and rebirth especially. I’m also very into astrology, and numerology, and so it is a very important symbol in those areas. I’m a scorpio and the highest form of the scorpio is the phoenix. So this symbol has really become prominent for a number of reasons, making myself better, making each work better than the last, learning from mistakes to reach a more positive outcome, so that in a way I am reaching my sense of enlightenment, whatever or wherever that may be.
Whats next for Justin Taylor?
To just continue discovering myself and developing that creatively…