According to Gary Taxali, doodling, sketching and defacing antiquated pages and book covers, and creating new characters is something he has always done and cannot seem to stop doing. In many ways, his work is a continuation of the fun he had as a child. Throughout his career Taxali has skillfully expanded his childhood narrative by producing sophisticated, simple compositions filtered through an adult perspective and a wicked sense of humor.
Gary Taxali was born in 1968 in Chandigarh, India, the 20th Century ‘Utopian’ city designed by Le Corbusier. His family immigrated to Toronto, Canada a year later. Encouraged by his parents as a child to embrace his ‘arty side, Taxali pursued an art education. In 1991, he graduated from the Ontario College of Art and began working as a professional illustrator. He has won a heap of illustration awards and his work has been featured in publications such as Newsweek, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Esquire. Taxali began exhibiting his personal work in the late nineties and has shown off his work in several galleries throughout North America. He is also in the toy-making business and is currently awaiting publication of his first children's book.
Inspired by his father who would draw and paint when he was little, his first true artistic influence was children’s book icon, the delightfully spooky Maurice Sendak, and his book In the Night Kitchen infected Taxali for life. Growing up Taxali was also captivated by the works of Picasso, Warhol and, subsequently, Rauschenberg. These influences are reflected in his innovative combinations of non-traditional materials, objects, and surfaces. Taxali screen-prints with inks and enamel oils on paper, wood and aluminum, drawing with graphite and painting with oils - sometimes acrylics. Basically he uses anything he can get his hands on, and usually within grabbing distance from the thing on which he is working. An avid recycler, Taxali has also mastered the art of making his unique works appear aged. “I try and honour the surface and not fight it,” he explains. “Screen printing works best for me because I use dirty glass when I make the emulsions on the screens. I love the random, strewn, mistaken look.”
A love of old fonts and package design led Taxali to pursue this unique style further. “I dream about typography. Nothing gives me greater joy than to render it alongside a cartoon of man, dog or other such characters. The type serves as both an anchor and conceptual element that seems to make my pictures sing, at least for me. Even a simple scrawl can do the trick.”
Collecting packaging and advertising from the 1930s has now become one of his greatest passions. “I try and work with found, aged objects in a reductive way so as to make a minimal amount of marks in order to retain its aged beauty.”
The result is that Taxali’s canvases are everything from antique papers to book covers, similar to the ones he magically discovered in his parents' basement - some old 1940s and 50s Indian math and science textbooks. Taxali started to draw pictures on them and became immediately attracted to working on the old, antiquated surfaces. Taxali was soon scouring antique stores to see what other treasures he could find. “It's wonderful what time does to objects and it's impossible to mimic that same look - I know because I've tried with disastrous results. The paper and book covers are so beautiful that I am forced to be as minimal as possible so as not to take away from the awesome textures and natural discolourations.”
He catches the freshness of comics and the spontaneous qualities of collage to create works that often seem accidental and random. His 3D pieces are no different. Taxali’s sculptures bring to life characters that were once only alive on the page. “I collaborate with artist pals who mostly guide and direct me in helping me translate one of my characters into a 3D reality. Since I work in such a graphically simple style, the transitioning of 2D drawings into 3D characters is a relatively easy process.”
Taxali’s foray into toy-making began in 2005 with the launch of the utterly gorgeous Toy Monkey, a vinyl figure standing at 8” tall. The popularity of this figure, and the fact that Toy Monkey needed friends to play with, prompted Gary to bring to life Oh No and his twin Oh Oh, 6.5" high vinyl figures with fully moveable legs. Oh No, like Toy Monkey, came to life in the form of artwork for a show. Toy Monkey was liked so much that after various appearances, including a special limited edition print created for The Whitney Museum of American Art, Taxali decided he was ready for the 3D world. Gary is also working on his next vinyl figure, which will be over 8" high. So why toys? “Many people asked me to do them and it seemed like a nice extension from my drawings and paintings. It’s been a wonderful experience,” Taxali muses.
One look at the Toy Monkey and it’s easy to see why he is so adored.
Yet Taxali didn’t just stop at toys: he has also created a children’s book This Is Silly, due to be released in 2010. A labour of love that took two years to complete, Taxali felt it would be fun to do and its conception is pretty darn interesting too. “I had a weird experience a few years ago when asked to illustrate a kid's book,” says Taxali. “The writer, after seeing my first draft, started having nightmares about my work. She called my work ‘archetypically horrific’. She lives on a farm in Maryland with no electricity and she's into the occult trip - go figure. The editor was upset and didn't know what to do. I thought it best that we end the thing there and they find another illustrator. Preferably one whose work didn’t cause the writer to wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats would be a good first start. After that experience, I decided to try my own hand at writing. So I wrote a story and it became a personal project.”
When asked if creating the book was difficult, Taxali is ardent. “I don’t really use the word ‘difficult’ in any project I undertake. It’s a bad word and I keep my work separate from anything that has such negative connotations. I like the word ‘challenge’. Everything I do is a challenge of some sort. If it were not, it would not be worth doing. Creating a series of pictures for kids and simultaneously writing was very challenging. It taught me a lot about myself like a true challenge should.”
It would also be safe to say that many of us can easily relate to the inspiration behind the book. “I was being constantly told to stop ‘acting silly’ by teachers while growing up. My parents weren’t the problem – it was the school system, which is ill-equipped to handle energetic children who need to have a greater creative environment than what is otherwise offered in the public school system. My book is a license for children to explore their silly side and let loose. Since it’s in the form of a book, there is a degree of sanctimony attached to it (like every book) so parents and teachers better let them enjoy the experience. It’s my law for educators everywhere.”
So, any chance of adding a ‘wooden toy’ to the collection anytime soon? “Yep,” he says. “I definitely see a wooden Gary Taxali toy on the very near horizon.”