Toronto artist with a unique take on portraiture
WORDS BY TASH COWLEY | QUÉBEC CITY | STUDIO SESSIONS
NOV 18, 2022 | ISSUE 4
"With A Little Help From My Friends" by Tony Taylor
En route to my favourite butcher in Toronto’s Kensington market this past summer, I noticed a loose line forming along the sidewalk. Would-be buyers pointing, chuckling, and then eventually buying one of Tony Taylor’s wood-block prints from his pop-up kiosk. The most striking feature of his style is perhaps how swiftly it explains itself to the curious observer: various icons of pop culture are depicted with their heads replaced with that of an animal. It’s in the succinct pairing of various heads, with variously famous bodies, that Taylor’s wit—and artistic flair—comes through in vivid colour. This unusual approach to portraiture is (literally) backed-up with an unconventional wooden canvas that make the artworks very hangable.
I bought myself a trio of basketball bodies with complimenting animal heads (a cobra, a t-rex, and a goat—I’ll leave you with the mystery) and made a mental note of the artist behind the work. Taylor joins smART Magazine now to reflect on how he arrived at this fascination.
sM | How would you explain this fascination with superimposing the animal form on the human form?
TT — For myself it all started with politicians and economists. I wanted to show they were driven by animalistic behaviours that are often not in the best interest of the population they were supposed to serve, instead of dominating. Replacing their faces with animal heads was an easy jump when I first started thinking about how to best achieve my inclination. In the beginning, I was more interested in the body language of the figures than who they were or their political status. After pursuing the series for a few years and hearing people project their ideas about who the people in suits were. I started thinking about how I could portray them in a way that people would be able to tell who they were. I was choosing animals that could mock or create a more untrustworthy feeling but, as the years have passed, I’ve used the style to make the human form more loveable in most cases. People often say my version of the Queen as a corgi is quite flattering.
sM | How do you go about pairing a particular celebrity and animal? Is there a rule of thumb, or are you inspired by one before setting out to find the other?
TT — Lately I’ve been embracing some literal connections with the subject’s first or last name—or well-known nicknames in various sports. People really enjoy seeing a good pun occasionally. In other cases, I usually start with a celebrity and think about which dog or cat might best suit their personality. I’ve been getting inspired by pop culture the most lately, both past and current pop culture. I really enjoy seeing people’s reactions to their favorite movie actor or sports icon in a new way that somehow makes more sense to them with an animal face. I keep a running list of ideas for different genres that I’m always trying to troubleshoot.