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RapidBlog: My Life As An Artist In Grand Rapids by Georgia Taylor



Georgia Taylor is an artist and founder of Salon 477 LLC, an art studio specializing in graphic design, photography, portrait drawings and paintings. Taylor teaches graphic design at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) and is a Volunteer Coordinator at Baxter Community Center.

"What do I want to be when I grow up?" was never a question that had to be answered in my life. I've always known. I have always been an artist; not because I thought it was cool as a kid or my mother forced me to take drawing or pottery classes during summer breaks, but because without art, I can't breathe.

"Lose your self-consciousness and become conscious of your true self", a saying created and often quoted by my mother, artist and Reverend, Angela Taylor-Perry. Everyone has the right and opportunity to create. Whether or not it is taken advantage of is another matter entirely.

As a child, I was surrounded by the arts: in my home (my mother is an artist), at school (this was the time when art classes were an expected part of a curriculum) and through other avenues (e.g Kalamazoo Institute of Art). I can remember being about seven or eight years old and bringing home a drawing of a lion's head that I completed as a classroom assignment. The reaction from my family left an impression on my little heart and made me feel like I might actually be onto something.

The arts began to breathe within me. During my middle school years, I was obsessed with comics and made it a law in my house that no one touch the Sunday paper before I had my chance to snatch out the comics section and draw them. My creative imagination was given room to blossom and grow undisturbed. My mom always wondered why I spent so much time in my room and how I could stay in one place for hours on end. Well, Mom, now you know: I was drawing Garfield and Beetle Bailey incessantly. As a child, having the permission to create with unrestricted time and space allowed me to mentally form my own worlds and characters that inhabited them. Which, in turn, fostered innovation the ability to problem solve, development of new ideas and creative thinking.

During high school at Kalamazoo Central, there were commercial art classes available to take as well as a host of other art-related courses. I found myself immersed in an environment where the reality of actually remaining an artist for life started to form. Back then, my artist friends and I were bound by familiarity and proximity. We shared classes, rode the bus together or lived in the same neighborhood. There was a collective energy among us and the fact that we were a minority within our school was irrelevant because no matter where we went, we were never too far from each other. We had community.

My college days at Kendall College of Art and Design carried that feeling of "community art" into my early adulthood through the camaraderie of other artists, exposure to other art forms and the development of my style and creative voice. I can confidently describe my time at Kendall as an almost perfect experience and the synergy from being in that type of environment has yet to be matched in my life.

Even though I was often the only African-American woman in my art classes, throughout my entire life, the presence of other artists left me with a sense of never feeling alone. It was the art that united us. Though our ethnic backgrounds differed, various languages were spoken, and our histories told different stories, it was those differences that made our art all the more richer. I suppose that reality superseded the fact that there was often no one else present that looked like me. Later in life, I felt the weight of this in my creative processes.

Since college, my life has taken me into the corporate art world for a stint, to being a barista and to finally resting on a career as a freelance artist. Being an African American artist in Grand Rapids has had its share of triumphs and challenges. As any person of color in America knows, just to be average means having to go above and beyond. Of course, I never intended to be just average. Which means that living in a coming- of-age arts community like Grand Rapids, I have to find my way by engaging with other artists to foster relationships and create networks, as well as get involved with the city at large.

Knowing what is taking place, or will take place, in my city requires participation if I want to be a part of the growth and development of the arts community. Some of my experience in Grand Rapids has taken me from apprenticing under world renowned artist Paul Collins to forming Salon 477 LLC, my art business where I work in graphic design, photography, portrait drawing and mural painting. Sounds impressive, but I have never had to work as hard on anything else in my life than chasing after my own dream.

Unlike my formative years in Kalamazoo, artists of color in Grand Rapids are few and far between. This has had a profound effect on my psyche, my work and my hope for the emergence and growth of this population of the arts community. Nevertheless, I'm not discouraged! I am charged with a responsibility to give others the opportunity to create and to lead by example. The absence of African American artists is not due to the fact that they don't exist, but to the lack of accessibility to quality art education and lack of support within their immediate environment. Also, many people still hold on to the myth that art is simply a hobby and not a sustainable source of income. Therefore, art is often discouraged and creativity is suppressed. It is my belief that in order for me to call myself a successful artist, I have to be willing to pass on what was so freely given to me. The gathering of other artists of color in Grand Rapids to create a synergy that empowers and cultivates lifelong artistry which will make for a more vibrant community at large is where my passion lies -- a process that is worthy of lifelong dedication and of which I am privileged to be a part.

I recently read an article that contained a quote from the Bulgarian artist Christo. He said, "I am an artist, and I have to have courage ... Do you know that I don't have any artworks that exist? They all go away when they're finished. Only the preparatory drawings, and collages are left, giving my works an almost legendary character. I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain." That makes me think of African American artists in history that used the social climate as their muse, which fostered movements and harnessed their voices in a time of radical change.

Though the physical works of artists like Paul Collins, Romare Bearden, and Aaron Douglas will remain forever for us to view, the invisible footprint they left is a call to action. A need for change has come around again and in my eyes, a revolution begins when we look in the mirror.


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