Tracing the Lines

Sozo Gallery is pleased to present “Re-Lined,” a solo exhibit featuring the works of Davidson University graduate, Taylor O. Thomas. Currently residing in Tampa, Fl, Taylor is no stranger to the Charlotte area, having been involved with local arts organizations such as The Community School for the Arts. Taylor took time out of the studio to talk with us about her work, artistic process, and the future. 


Taylor in her Tampa, FL studio working on  I Knewshed Be Back .

Taylor in her Tampa, FL studio working on I Knewshed Be Back.

SG: As an artist that has now had pieces shown and in collections around the world, when did you know that art would be the thing for you? 

“So, this is a funny question. So I’d actually started my undergraduate degree thinking that I wanted to be pre-med. I was really set on dental surgery and through a lot of hard conversations with my teams, honesty with myself, I kind of came to that point and it’s over and I realized that just because you are good at something does not mean you’re meant to do it. And that was the case with medicine and me. And so at that point, art had really started out as sort this therapeutic relieving practice. I’ve always been very type-A, and so to go into the studio and experiment with abstraction and with mark-making, it sort of went against everything that I had up until that point based myself and my identity around; really structured, having a plan.

I mean that’s when I moved towards it as a career path but I’d say that within the year after college, I knew that pursuing my own painting practice was what was going to bring me the most fulfillment. Because I worked for other artists in Charlotte, I worked for a really wonderful nonprofit, The Community School of the Arts, and so trying my best to find out if working in the creative field would satisfy me. And I went through that process and it just wasn’t for me. You know I would long to be in the studio, and I was longing to create my own work and just support others who were creating theirs. So that’s probably where I knew that that’s what I had to do.”  


SG: So from that it sounds like it took you some time and some changes to kind of figure out that this is the path for you, but what would you say has been the biggest evolution for your work as you’ve grown and you know, become the artist that you currently are? 

“Hmmm, that’s a great question. I don’t know if I could boil it down to just one moment because I feel like more than anything, what I’ve learned in the process of evolving is that it’s going to be a consistent act of my life and of my career… So I’ve almost learned the opposite, that there aren’t just one major evolution point but rather, there’s never this like ending. Like whenever I feel like I’ve arrived at a completion of a body of work, I’m already propelling myself toward change and toward that evolutionary process of pushing myself to create something, not necessarily better but still brings new questions that are coming up… That’s honestly how I would most answer that question, like rather than sort of one major change for my work, it’s been a series of ongoing changes and I think that they’re always very much guided by questions that I’m facing in my life or you know just basic questions of materiality and paint, so yeah.”


SG: I saw in your bio that you use painting, and to quote you “as a means of investigating identity, spirituality and human connection.” What have you discovered so far?

“So when I approach a canvas I often times think a lot about how much it relates to just living in a day-to day life. In terms of a lot of the times like this year that I have with releasing control in the process, how much control to harbor, how to exercise what I’ve learned, you know, through the years of painting while at the same time being willing to open myself up to all of the things, all of the material choices, all of the compositional and color combination choices that I’m not aware of, you know that I have yet to grasp and experiment with. I think that you know for me, that allows me to reflect back on a lot of the roots of my identity and questioning like why do I strive so much for control, like what does that say about you know, my insecurities, or my confidence or what not. So it relates back always to a very personal level and sort of those larger questions of you know, identity and how I just like live out day to day life, and then you know of course my faith always comes into that, you know with this need for knowledge and control and understanding, there’s always this sort of other side to it and that’s the unknown and the divine and the counterpoint of putting hope and putting trust into something that I can’t necessarily see or put my finger on.

And then finally just human connection. I mean even though I live this sort of day to day life that is relatively isolated compared to other careers, in my studio, I’m alone. I’m playing music by myself most of the time but I think really in sharing my work and sort of thinking through what questions I’m asking, what sort of themes or ideas I’m exploring through paint, I’m always preparing myself to be able to have conversations with other people, you know. I’m working alone but I’m certainly not doing the work for myself alone. You know the hope is to really make something that’s worth seeing. That other people can be challenged by or can be comforted by or you know whatever the emotion that is in the piece of work. I think that’s a lot of my drive, you know, like how is it going to propel greater human connection.”

Emergency Exit |  @taylorothomas  | 48x36 | mixed media on paper

Emergency Exit | @taylorothomas | 48x36 | mixed media on paper


SG: So I see a lot in your pieces and your descriptions that you talk about lines… Can you tell me more about the process of peeling? You were saying that there’s different layers; how do you know what direction you want to take a piece once you’ve started it?  

“That’s a great question. So especially in the series called ‘Wild Things,’ most of my process revolved around sort of this laying down of really expressionistic, really movement oriented marks. And so I would fill the entire field of canvas with these super active marks that would engage my entire body and for me that was such a curious process and such a physically challenging and mentally sort of engaging one, and definitely an emotional one. But it always left me wondering why this need to repeat so many marks, like what does it mean for our body to go through this muscle memory type of action, and to get so swept up in the act of repeating a certain curved form.

And so in stepping back, I would really think about like there’s value in just laying these things out there but that there is even bigger value in being able to step away and to let certain aspects to reveal. And I started really loving and sort of cherishing that act of covering things up and only allowing the viewer to see certain elements. And again that sort of just made me think a lot more about sort of this larger question of what does it mean to cover-up aspects of self, of a painting, of whatever it may be, and then to reveal others. Like what value do some marks have over others, and I’m not sure that I have an answer to that question. I more just enjoyed asking that question, going through that intuitive process of everything revealing itself. I sort of do a practice of identifying marks that I’m drawn to. 

A lot of the time it’s intuitive, a lot of the time it really goes back to the basic composition and mark making and formal qualities of painting. And then there’s this sort of other mode that comes into play, there’s the laying down of these marks that’s really thin and quick, and then there’s this other sort of mode of using such thick spots of paint to like sweep over all of these marks that I’ve done except for those that are like preserving tape or masking element. And I think that this offers different things for me like there’s something risky in just taking a huge strip of paint over something that you’ve done and there’s also something relieving about it. Like knowing that you’re taking this piece to a next step and even though the result is kind of unfound at that point, I don’t know, there’s a truth involved. There’s a trust that I’ll figure out where to go next. So yeah, long winded answer to basically say it’s an intuitive process. It’s very much like act in this certain way and then pause and then respond to sort of what happened.”


SG: I think it’s an awesome answer only because I as a dancer go through the same process with a movement, so it’s interesting how different art forms connect in that way. 

“Yeah, totally. Like even with bees and different types of movement, the canvas really, it does kind of become like a surface for movement to happen upon and I’ve done more and more recent work about how can I push those different speeds to the extreme. Like how can you know, marks be rapid and active and hurried? And then what does it mean to make a slow changing or slow mark on top of that? So yeah, very interesting. Very into the body and movement for sure.“


SG: If you were looking down the road five years, what do you see for your work? 

“Hmm, what for I see for my work? This is an interesting question because when you say what do you see, it’s different than saying what do you hope for and I think that, I don’t know, I think that those two things are different. But with that said, I see a continued interest in exploring the basic elements of mark making and line. I think that line to me is always going to be a subject in my work. I honestly think about lines as characters in a sense, and I guess that’s become my language. So just from an artwork standpoint and subject matter, I continue to see so many questions and so much to mine out of just the interaction of lines and what they can signify, what movements they can make. And I’m nowhere near sort of feeling like I’ve arrived at my maturist point. Like I feel like I’m just sort of breaking through to that place. And I see for my work, it being seen by larger, more diverse audiences.

And you know my hope is that I’ll always be able to stand by it. Like I love getting to come to the exhibit openings because to me, being absent and not getting to see my work and engage with whatever audience is there, what person wouldn’t want to be there, whether it’s an opening and there are 50 plus people, I see myself getting to being there. Getting to just have conversations, and I’ve experienced nights where I’m left standing for an hour past closing, and I’m so exhausted and you know, starving, and ready to have a drink of water and end my day. But I like this adrenaline rush, getting to have people not just listen but for me to listen to them. Some of the most interesting, powerful words are not spoken by me, you know it’s spoken by other people and sort of the responses they have to the works or what the work makes them think about and the stories shared at that moment. 

Yeah, so, I mean I think that’s just on a personal level, and finally, on a career level, I see galleries in New York or in L.A.. I see, you  know down the road the hope of me getting to be in a museum and to have impact in that way. So I’m trying to see as big and as daringly as I can because my thought is, ‘Why not, you know?’ No one else has to sit here and create my vision. So I’m hoping for work that can be seen on a broader level, and yet at the same time for a relationship with my work and to people that will always remain intimate, and that will always be genuine and personal. Yeah, that’s a hard question. Sorry, I kind of rambled.” 


SG: No, you did great. You really did. Well I’ll lighten it up and ask you what’s your favorite guilty pleasure? 

“My favorite guilty pleasure? Oh gosh! So all of my friends, my best friends, most of them know this, but it’s probably at the end of the night, getting a bag of popcorn and watching Netflix. It’s like a very homey guilty pleasure but I’m probably the most extroverted introvert. I love people, and I can be social but I really love that end of the day me-time to just watch stupid Netflix and eat a bag of popcorn.” 

Taylor O. Thomas during the July 27 opening of "Re-lined" at Sozo Gallery.

Taylor O. Thomas during the July 27 opening of "Re-lined" at Sozo Gallery.


“Re-lined” will be on exhibit now through August 24. Stop by and spend some time with this amazing collection, full of color, depth, and experience, and walk away with your own piece of the story that is “Re-lined.”