Small world: Taylor limits his terrain

Steve Taylor, "Corn Field."
Steve Taylor, "Corn Field."

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The last time Steve Taylor exhibited at the McGuffey Art Center, he filled the main gallery with oversized oil-on-canvas landscapes. He reserved one wall, though, for a collection of small studies on paper. Taylor’s large paintings were competently executed, but these smaller works, created quickly and with less concern for control, sang with a vital lyricism.

So I smiled when I learned the title of Taylor’s current show in McGuffey’s downstairs hall gallery: “The Small Stuff.” For this body of work, Taylor combines oil, acrylic, ink, and oil pastel on paper to create landscapes from memory. All of the semi-abstract works, save two, are limited in scale and express Taylor’s affection for the Blue Ridge Mountain vistas of his present and a poignant nostalgia for English landscapes from his youth.

Many of the pieces offer Taylor’s evocative recollections of Huntcliff, a striking sheer-sided promontory that juts into the sea in northeast England. The artist provides two large photographs of the landmark for reference, but his lovely and widely varied impressions don’t rely on viewers’ familiarity with Huntcliff for their success. Taylor’s gestural strokes and deft layering of colors give viewers all the information necessary to emotionally respond to the work.

For instance, in “Huntcliff Rain,” Taylor offers an almost monochromatic painting that compels with its subtle color variations. A peach-grey sky hangs above the blue-grey cliff, quietly enlivened by green along its ridge, while a stretch of green-grey beach arcs in the foreground. The overall effect is melancholy and atmospheric.

Particularly interesting is the way Taylor uses the page itself as a frame for his images. The borders of his landscapes remain diffuse and raw, often revealing the intricate layering of his palette. Although the edges of the tiny “Corn Field,” suggest a series of horizontal sweeps across the page, the center of the image thrills with scratch-like furrows of green and reddish-pink running through a yellow field beneath a late-evening mountain skyline.

“The Small Stuff” also includes several monoprints, which are a new endeavor for Taylor. What is noteworthy is how each print is barely there and yet succeeds in evoking a landscape. For instance, “Essex” reads as a plowed field despite being essentially a faint, multi-colored blot on the page.

When it comes to Taylor’s work, contradictions rule: the less literal, the more evocative, and the smaller, the greater the impact. Less is beautifully more.

Steve Taylor's exhibition, "The Small Stuff," is on view through November 22 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.