The title painting of Henry Taylor’s first institutional solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2007, Sis and Bra is a definitive testament to the American artist’s prolific oeuvre of profound portraiture. Painted in 2004 at the dawn of his professional career, this piercing painting, said to be of the artist’s sister and brother, is of glowing color and lively impasto in signature Taylor style. Sis and Bra is a superlative example of the intuitive portrayals of the Black experience for which Taylor has received widespread critical recognition. A social observer through his craft, Taylor’s practice shines within a long lineage of artist as documentarian. Like the strikingly intimate work of Alice Neel, Romare Bearden and Kerry James Marshall, Taylor paints with a bright, earnest attention to all walks of life.
Often turning his gaze to friends and family, as well as the invalid, the homeless and other, often transient members of his Los Angeles community, Taylor's oeuvre reveals his unwavering ability to capture the human essence. Pulling his subjects anywhere from the McDonalds drive thru to the street corners of skid row, Taylor paints loved ones and strangers along with the wealthy and the deprived alike, invoking a visual sense of empathy that one can only assume is informed by the decade he spent working as a psychiatric nurse at Camarillo State Hospital. There, Taylor would study and paint his patients by night as he pursued a fine arts education by day at Oxnard College under James Jarvaise, a distinguished American artist most known for his inclusion in the revolutionary 1959 exhibition “16 Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was Jarvaise who first introduced Taylor to the work of contemporary titans such as Philip Guston and Richard Diebenkorn before ultimately urging him to drop his class and enroll at California State Institute of the Arts.