Interview: Gary Taxiali

GARY TAXALI interview for Fleck Contemporary Art magazine

1. MAGGIE BRODA: Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts Gary. You are both an alumni of OCAD University (AOCA, Communication & Design, 1991) and an Associate Professor at the University. How has your relationship with OCADU influenced your career?

GARY TAXALI: When I first began teaching I viewed it as a refreshing excuse to get of the studio. I embraced the idea of helping students understand their work. However within a few years it became clear that
teaching is more than that. It has made me a better artist. It requires me to rationalize and articulate to my students the process of creating a visual language that effectively communicates. The critiques with students were invaluable in creating my list of ways that I have discovered in time to help me and them understand this. Each year I expand on this. When I present and lecture around the world I benefit from having had some rehearsal in the classroom environment. This really helps with my own practice. My students are amazing. They are not collectors or clients. They seek answers to support their own work and so we have open and constructive dialogues. They know when you are being honest about art. You can never give them false information because they will see right through you.

2. M. B.: You graduated from OCAD University in Design but your current work is exhibited in galleries internationally. Tell me about your cross-disciplinary approach to being both an Artist and a Designer? How has OCADU helped shape your thinking?

G.T. : Well I can tell you that I was taught by Canada’s “Best of the Time”. OCADU has always been the Mother Ship, Conduit… THE PLACE… where you learn to think, to see, where the visual is paramount, learning about: Self-authorship and having a point of view is what a good arts education is about and OCADU has always provided that . Every year I took a course in Abstract painting as contrast to my design and Illustration classes, but that worked for me and I needed that balance. Art is Design even when it is intuitive, they are less polarized than most people think, this is how I see things. Commercial illustration, galleries for fine art, for me and my work, one can not exist without the other. The portfolio should have both. I think of when I taught at the Denmark School of Design where the government decides how many students will enrol in art courses based on the economy and the number of jobs available for artists. Artists there are more humbled by this honesty.

3. M. B. I understand that you are constantly working and creating. Can you take us through the process of developing an idea into a piece of art?

G.T. Well, I jump in headfirst. Gallery shows require mapping out due to the logistics of having a set space in which to display my work. I do not have a sketchbook or use a pencil. I don’t want anything to be removed once I begin; I want to stay true to the initial mark. I use a permanent pen to develop an idea from the starting point. Meditation is important to my daily routine. Thinking is not good for creativity because the mind is not where ideas come from. Eventually I decide if my work should become a print or to blow up the image or what other direction to take. I like to keep my process open.

4. M.B. Your shows have been successful in: New York, L.A., Spain, Italy, Germany. Do the reactions to your work differ according to location?
G.T. Yes. Culturally I would say my work relates to the East Coast, Toronto and New York scene. However I am continually thought to be from California where I first began showing. It’s a reflection of the gallery’s narrative. I have no gallery representation in Canada. Waddingtons (Canada’s largest and very prestigious Art Auction House) gave me a solo show in January 2014, which was great. I was the first contemporary pop artist to have a show there. Cultural sensibility varies in Europe and US. You can tell by the sales where the similar aesthetics are.

5. M.B. Currently you teach at the Sharp Centre for Design, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. What’s it like to work and teach in this iconic building?

G.T. I love it. There is a particular 6th floor room that I occupy that has the most spectacular view south down Mc Caul St.. You can see the Sky Dome, the C.N. Tower and all the towers around them. There are tiny windows near the floor that frame the city views, like wonderful gems everywhere.

6. M.B. You have designed coins for the Canadian Mint, pocket-squares for Harry Rosen, had your characters made into toys, created children’s books and have also been nominated for and Grammy Award for designing an album cover. What’s next for Gary Taxali ?

G.T. I have a schedule that includes more group shows. In the fall I will be showing in Montreal at Yves La Roche Gallery. I am working with the Jonathan Levine Gallery in NYC on new limited edition prints as well as private commissions and more pocket squares for Harry Rosen. I designed an electric light boxed that the city has installed at intersections to beautify the city.
It’s a great time to be an artist.

M.B. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you Gary. This has been a pleasure