“My Blackness is a declarative statement in my work. There are wonderful, discarded objects brought home by my father and botanical prints my mother found from various secondhand stores. Makers of things and tellers of stories surrounded me. In the late 1960s and early 1970s in the midst of socio-political activities, I began to formulate an aesthetic language, a visual synergy. The symbolism of the African American quilt, the pejorative images of the watermelon became part of my cryptology.”
— Janet Taylor Pickett
NECESSARY MEMORIES chronicles Janet Taylor Pickett’s journey as an artist, showcasing selected works from the 1980s through 2021. Coexisting in her often-ornate paintings and collages is imagery drawn from art history, Africa, America and Europe, present and past wherein linear timeframes and logical geographic or cultural relationships are defied. Bold and unapologetically stated, her lyrical and animated work is a multi-textural exposé referencing her varied experiences. The artist offers a confessional narrative illuminated through images of memory and identity. NECESSARY MEMORIES is a living metaphor of the artist finding her way and establishing her presence in the world. This is Taylor Pickett’s first solo exhibition with JENNIFER BAAHNG GALLERY and her first in New York.
What is evident in both bookends of her ongoing art practice is that Taylor Pickett is a storyteller drawing on and weaving throughout her work vivid overlapping motifs. The black female figure that populates her creations are singular women in a singular time and space, drawing on harrowing tales of the Underground Railroad and her own family’s stories as part of the Great Migration that brought them to the Midwest. Her pathway to becoming an artist was tilled in that verdant soil of memory, reflected in the richness of her palette and the skin tones of her figures. These women are manifestly strong and defiant, a posture evident in their intense gazes and frequently in a stance with arms akimbo, itself a representation of power.
Metaphor plays a central role in Taylor Pickett’s art. This is most apparent in the prevalence of the dress form in many of her works that serves as a stand-in for female identity and a vessel for memory. Another frequent motif is the watermelon, employed as an evocative and provocative symbol in her compositions. The artist sees this ancient form as “a woman’s fruit–red, juicy, sweet, sensuous, round.” Flora and fauna permeate her compositions as well, surfacing in imaginative forms that contribute to the allegorical nature of her work. In the artist’s use of autobiographical symbolism and engagement with issues of fecundity one finds resonance with the self-portraits of Frida Kahlo.
While Romare Bearden’s influence is reflected both visually and conceptually in Taylor Pickett’s multifaceted collage techniques, she has also found frequent inspiration in her masterful interaction with European “masters.” In the cornucopia of artistic styles upon which the artist draws, one can see in her use of color and form vestiges of Henri Matisse. And the remarkable illumination in Johannes Vermeer’s interior scenes has echoes in Taylor Pickett’s more recent paintings. Her engagement with these artists challenges exclusionary practices of canonical art history, laying claim to her rightful place in this creative dialogue with unique compositions expressing her private and intimate musings in her own distinctive voice.
Revealed in this mosaic of tantalizing work is the way in which memories mold us into what we become. Enchantingly eclectic, NECESSARY MEMORIES is a feast for the eye and the soul. It is a window into Janet Taylor Pickett’s restless inner travels and reconciliation with her personal and inherited past.