The art enthusiasts stood in front of the Guilded Gallery wall of Val Paul Taylor art, each, in turn, discussing the signature quirkiness and chaos, replete with bright oranges, yellows, and reds. The woman stops at “Bashful,” a serene piece dominated, by contrast, with a blue sky and wispy clouds. In it, sunflowers hide behind a tablecloth draped over a laundry line.
“I think that’s one I would put in my house,” she said.
Taylor recounts hearing her review and tells it with a good belly laugh. His art is received with a mix of delight, wonder, and confusion. Some collectors will purchase one of his smallest prints because it’s all their art-packed walls have room for and they adamantly want a “Val Paul Taylor.”
His work tells stories, unpacks complex human behavior, and pulls off social commentary in a punny package, using anthropomorphized creatures to convey the message. Often called satirical, his paintings are more a study into human nature and peoples’ innate follies in a spirit of fun, rather than ridicule.
Karla Matzke, Camano Island sculptor, categorizes his work as “surrealistic fantasy,” an apt category, wherein he inverts the rules of reality, putting a caged clownfish on a woman’s head in “To Be Completely Honest,” and boots on birds. There are a lot of boots on birds.
“Steal like an artist,” he said. “Take two or three things that have never been put together before.” Among the quirky is layer upon layer of universal, if not forgotten, symbolism.
"You have to study it to figure out what is the pun here,” Matzke said, adding it may be a spin on a child’s rhyme. His work is nothing if not complex.
“My philosophy of art, in general, is that it must be a well-crafted, well-designed composition. And all art, at least art that appeals to me, needs to have an idea. And, it’s like in music, it needs a hook, a nice bridge.”
Taylor takes inspiration from music, baseball, comedians, campy movies like “Mars Attacks,” the “organized chaos” of the Marx Brothers, and from abstract artists such as Wasilly Kandinsky and Mark Rothko. The “pure genius” of Brian Wilson’s music drove Taylor to achieve symphonic level complexity in his own work.
“I basically took that concept and said I am going to do that in art. So it forced me to learn how to paint more detailed and to create a certain process to make it work. All of my paintings are completely drawn out before I start to paint,” Taylor explains.
Taylor strives to accomplish those many layers with flawless execution, and a dizzying degree of detail. His prior 30 years in art are the basis for his success. His first job as an illustrator working in pen and ink, then his own successful Seattle design firm set a grueling pace in which he learned to produce work quickly and develop ideas on the fly.
Ideas are where it's at for Taylor. “Ideas are precious. Ideas are gifts.”
“I based my creative philosophy on a story by Rodney Dangerfield. He was told ‘you are so funny — how do you come up with it all?' He said ‘Everybody has three things happen to them every day that are really funny. I just write them down.’ I have never forgotten that,” Taylor said. “So I asked myself if it’s possible. I realized I would have dozens and dozens and dozens of ideas. I have a dozen notebooks. In the process of drawing an idea there are three others in my head and I can’t get them out fast enough.”
An idea may be sparked by anything. Once he heard someone say “One of the most important skills you can learn in life is knowing what face to make.” Taylor produces a hearty laugh at the idea, his eyes dancing with the creative spark lit into fire by that one phrase.
Taylor also brings to his paintings a deeply spiritual side, and more than a few are not poking fun at human folly, but are rather playfully admiring of the human character. Most paintings he will leave to the viewer to assess, but for those made with a more heartfelt sentiment, he’ll share his own bits of wisdom.
In “Feeding Time,” a Native American teeters over the tip of his canoe, balanced by a cormorant on the aft, with puffins about, while he feeds orca whales. “Generations before Sea World some say the locals knew how to make friends of their watery neighbors. Food is the universal equalizer: if you want to make a friend take them to lunch,” he wrote on his website.
Taylor lives by his own advice and has bought many lunches, providing his savvy business advice to friends in need as well as fellow artists through classes he organized and over lunches he bought. He led Stanwood’s Guilded Gallery to refashion itself through the changing economic landscape of a pandemic.
He mused over “End of the Line,” a painting of his own that depicts an engineer in his steam-powered train, looking over his shoulder while he plunges over a cliff at the track’s abrupt end.
“I started that with the idea you get in this big machine, it’s beautiful, you are going 100 miles an hour and are just chugging down the track. At some point, the track runs out. It’s like ‘who stole my cheese?’ How many times in life do people get in real trouble because they don’t realize somebody is going to move the cheese or that the track ends?” he said.
“At least four or five times during life you are going to have to reinvent yourself. I was 52 when I went back to college to become a professor. I have been there at least three times in my life where I ran out of track.” He thought more about the painting, adding he could have easily added even more elements, like a parachute for the engineer.
“I spent time on the Crow Creek Reservation with the Sioux in South Dakota. They had a basic, philosophical wisdom that the older we get we should become more wise. The ones that are the most wise know they need to change or develop new skills.”
His humor and delight in human nature is tempered by his true desire to help others succeed by logic and reason. He paints folly hoping that others will learn from it.
"It’s all about a story to me,” he said, “because stories are where we learn.”