Lost Boys in the South

ART/CULTURE

Lost Boys in the South

Mark Taylor Interview

Interview: Yu Yamaguchi / Photography: Ports Bishop / All Artwork Courtesy of Mark Taylor

Mike Taylor is a Southern bred, Brooklyn-based artist who organically incorporates screen printing, painting, drawing and text into his work.  He is informed by different influences from subcultures, namely comics, zines, and Punk.  With his first solo show in New York in March 2014 titled “NO/FUTURE,” he addressed the political and cultural mythology of the United States.

  What was your childhood like?
   I am originally from Florida. I was one of your typical 80’s latchkey kids.  My dad was in the Air Force, and we moved to Alabama when I was two years old so he could go to college.  We lived in a trailer in the woods.  There weren’t many children nearby. So I had a dog instead. It was a fairly average life, both of my parents worked a lot and my dad went to school. I was alone a lot.  And he used to bring me home from work these big 11 x 17 stacks of computer paper, and the all the paper was linked together.  He was a draftsman, so I would see him draw and I wanted to draw too.  It became something you could always do if there was nothing else going on.  I was really into Mad magazine, and later, comic books. Of course, also The Jackson 5 cartoon that used to come on, any cartoons after, and all the Hanna Barbera, from the late 70’s and the early 80’s.  There is one that no one remembers.  It was called Drak Pack, and it was all about the classic movie monsters but as teenagers.  There was a teenage Dracula, a teenage werewolf, a teenage mummy and a teenage witch. They had a rock band and they solved crimes. That was one of my favorites. I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil.
   I was in Alabama until I was 13.  Then when my dad finished school, we briefly moved to Iowa.  That didn’t last long because my family is really Southern, they wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. So we moved back down to Florida.
So, you are working on this series on rednecks.  Have you thought of a title?
    If they hadn’t made the movie “Lost Boys,” I would call it that.  In the original Peter Pan, the Lost Boys were fairy children, and Tinker Bell was jealous of Wendy because she was in love with Peter, and she told the Lost Boys that Wendy was a naughty bird that needed to be shot down. So one of the Lost Boys shot Wendy with a bow and arrow. Later, Peter told them she was a friendly young girl, and they apologized and ended up in the same team.  But that kind of betrayal is what my work is about, as far as poor Southern people being tricked into believing the cause of their poverty and the loss of what they perceived as their culture is black people.  But black people are not to be blamed. It is regular capitalism, business as usual, rich people taking advantage of poor people.  There will be some drawings of the Lost Boys.
It is critical and humorous in a way. Why do you think that is?
   I grew up going to punk shows. So that anger is inherent to my approach and I am also influenced by that aesthetic.  The Southern culture is still important to me and it represents this series of what could have been, but not in that Confederate flag waving revisionist history nonsense way. For example, the state of Alabama has four million people. New York City has more than 8 million people.  We got this vast expansive tract of land, full of beautiful water, full of forests.  That area of the country, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and especially Florida, is one of the most contested land masses in all America. And we lost it to developers and religious wing nuts.  Things could have been so different if not for our distrust of black people. People have been fooled (into thinking that way) and that is a source of a lot of anger. But it has to be humorous because humor is the highest form of art.  I am going for perfection.  You’d have to laugh because otherwise you’d have to punch through walls all day.
We see a mix of different influences in your work. How did your work evolve?
   I started doing comics when I was 12. I did horror comics. That is what I loved the most.  But I didn’t know how to reproduce them once my dad stopped letting me Xerox in his office. A couple of years later, in Alabama, I met some small press weirdoes that were doing zines.  And I started to write people and get fanzines.  That is when this dichotomy in my brain started, that said mature artists and punks read zines and unserious people read comics.  This was around 1986 and 1987. I didn’t know about Gary Panther and Raw Magazine at that point.  I kind of knew about Peter Bagge who had some lead over the zine world. When I moved to Florida and found punk friends for the first time, my friend Dylan and I made zines that were all about music and I slowly started to put my drawings in it.  And I started to do comics again years later, then all through my twenties.  I did this zine called Scenery. It was a 90’s zine that had music and punks as backdrops, with more of the focus on politics and personal traveling.  I would draw in there.  It wasn’t comic. My comic world as it stands now is fairly limited.  Then I moved to Providence in 2001, and I got into screen printing because it is a cultural currency there. And meeting Brian Chippendale (of Lightening Bolt), Matt (Brinkman) and Jim (Drain) who were doing the Permissiveness, and their approach to comics got me back into it. I thought, “Oh there is no rule.” That is when I dropped the whole dichotomy about comics and zines. Finally I allowed it to be one thing again.  And the democracy with which you’d self-publish your own things and get them out for cheap is what kept me going the whole time.  With that said, I have always wanted to be a painter, but I just actually turned into a painter only very recently.  When I was a teenager, I used to try to paint with oils before I discovered screen printing, but ended up destroying them all.  If I knew that I could make paintings and then get them out to the world, I would have done that.
How did punk influence your art?
   With punk music and art, the main relationship is that you don’t need permission to do either of them, and you don’t need a lot of training.  So the barrier to entry is very low and everybody is making these records in super low quantities, and they just get their friends to do their covers.  You don’t need professional graphic designers. You don’t need a ton of courage to get involved. So that is easy to exist in that world, but you grow out of it quickly.  Ok, that sounds snobby, I didn’t grow out of it, but I am skilled at what I do.  It took a long time to get there. But it still happens.  If I were 30 years old and still coasting by on how easy it is, that would be sad.  Now, I am dedicated, and somewhat skilled.
Coming from your background, what is your idea of utopia?
   Personally, when I hear the word “utopia,” I think more of a conflict that arises when we confront our own lived reality versus the way we wish we could be living, and how our capacity for wishing we could be living any other way diminishes as we age.  I used to torture myself about that.  I used to think I wasn’t properly engaged politically or that I wasn’t doing anything to build a better future.  Now the utopia idea is permanent, like a sideburn in my head, like a front porch that is always accessible and available.  I will never be able to organize groups of people to behave like I would have them to behave.  Nor would I want that.  It is important to tap into that knowledge that life is how it is right now.  Life might play out differently down the road, things might change politically or romantically or whatever, but my happiness is my own responsibility. 

02.18.2018

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