“Outside of Time”: An Interview with Pace Taylor
By K. Iver
See more of Pace Taylor's artwork in Vol. 39.2 here.
My drawings are constructions of intimacy between people; specifically, all types. I build the images from found photographs of assumed queers from past decades, both alone and in the company of others. Through the translation from photograph to drawing, I invite a false memory to distort their bearings, bringing them into my world and covering them in planes of mutable soft pastel and the warmth and weight of lead. As memory and time distort appearance, the body becomes both a fixation and something inconsequential. Just an emotional shadow, vibrating color. In a rejection of the binary, the body acts as a hesitation for the viewer; an opportunity to project their own experience of being in the world; an offer to be held by another’s language.
K. Iver: Your work engages with a generous number of artistic traditions. How important is this arc, especially when the subjects are queer bodies?
Pace Taylor: Full transparency, I can’t say I was consciously aware that I was participating in all of these artistic traditions until recently when another artist asked a similar question. Since then I’ve been trying to more sincerely consider the implications of these comparisons and how that could come across to my audience. As I’ve started more actively engaging with art history in the past couple of years, I think I’ve been subconsciously drawn to artists actively participating in understanding their identities and how they function under larger power structures. R.B. Kitaj, Marisol Escobar, and Lubaina Himid are artists that come to mind if I’m thinking of this tradition of engaging critically with identity while working in the framing and visual language of the time. I also imagine that my use of vintage reference photos of assumed queer people, or often just people that look a bit out of place, implicates itself in the work. Perhaps I’m being passively influenced by the clothing, the staging, etc. but it seems it’s coming through. I will say I think there’s something special in working with these old images and bringing these assumed queers into a time and space outside of their original positioning.
KI: You’ve talked about being emotionally preoccupied with both tenderness and who has access to it. You named one of your pieces “The Privilege of Tenderness.” In it are three bodies of varied colors kneeling on the ground to look closely at a tuft of wildflowers. The upper-left-hand corner shows part of a swimming pool marked “6 ft.” In function, the viewer gazes at bodies that gaze at the flowers. What were your thoughts around tenderness and access when you were making this?
PT: It’s been a couple of years since I made that piece, so my relationship with tenderness has shifted a bit. At the time, I believe I was thinking about how certain narratives (read: white, cisgender, heternormative) are more readily accepted at a societal scale, and especially societal ideas around who is allowed to be soft, or to perform intimacy in public. I will say that I’m not so concerned with tenderness from that framing these days, and especially on such a large scale, but I’m a bit more preoccupied with how care plays out in intimate relationships on a platonic, romantic, or community scale. That’s more important to me at the moment.
KI: I’ve heard that safety is a prerequisite for tenderness. Your work explores many questions and I want to say one of them is what it means to feel safe with another body. What comes up for you, when you think about safety?
PT: I’d say you heard right! Safety should be a prerequisite for intimacy of all kinds, and unfortunately, it’s often not always built in. I made two drawings in 2020 that were in conversation with each other. The first drawing is titled Where it’s safe to close your eyes, a large-scale drawing that I imagine is a gathering of sorts, with two individuals sharing a kiss at its center, bordered by other party-goers. The other drawing is titled Where it’s safe to close your eyes (the other side of the room), which features two people, both with their eyes open. There’s an archway in both drawings, which I imagine as portals that lead to the corresponding drawing. I was considering community care and safety while working on these. As a queer person, I find gatherings that center queerness and create a protective space for folks to connect to be vital. However, as an autistic person, parties or gatherings like this are often too overwhelming for me to participate in, and I imagine that overwhelm is compounded by other intersections of identity, like race, disability, class, etc. Safety becomes finite. So I made these drawings to untangle my difficult feelings around community connection. Still untangling.
KI: The subjects of these paintings are engaged in holding and being held, of and by others, of and by themselves.
The appendage doing the holding, a hand rendered in graphite, contrasts the soft pastel of torsos and hair, as if to stabilize the intimacy. Can you talk about this?
PT: I like to think of the heavily rendered parts in my drawings as little hot spots. Points of contact and big feelings that can come from that contact. I most often render the hands and faces of my subjects in graphite, and I started doing this because those tend to be the most exciting, and challenging, attributes to draw. Over time, as I spend a lot (!) of time making the marks that make up these detailed elements, I’ve conceptualized them as the first points of contact with other people. They’re much more graspable than the internal workings of the person you’re connecting with. The large, flat planes of pastel that often make up the body of my subjects act as the foil. Especially when it comes to something like gender, sexuality, or other personal identifiers. All of that is ambiguous until you build a relationship with that other person. But first, it’s their hands and their face.
KI: Other patterns you use are semi-circles and arcs placed above and around the subjects or connecting them. How do these function, for you?
PT: I mentioned this a little earlier, but I often see these shapes as portals. Portals connecting all of my drawings so the subjects get to exist in this sweet little space outside of time.
KI: So much of American public life seems designed to avoid tenderness. Have you seen anything from TV, film, music, or even politics and civic organizing, that renders it successfully?
PT: The first thing that comes to mind is all of the community organizing I’ve witnessed over the years, but especially the heightened energy of that organizing throughout the pandemic and the current movement centering and supporting Black lives. There’s a community free fridge program (Portland Free Fridge) that popped up over the summer and has rapidly expanded across the city. That feels like tenderness to me. Okay, and a corny answer, I’ve been watching The Repair Shop on Netflix, and I cannot tell you how many times it has made me weepy. There’s something really beautiful about caring for objects of personal importance because it means that you’re recognizing that you find this thing, this item important that maybe another person wouldn’t, and you’re divorcing personal importance from cultural importance, and I find that to be pretty significant. Not only does the repair of these objects allow them to be loved on for another generation or two, but it’s a nice reminder of how we can re-frame cultural definitions of disposability, even beyond commercial objects.
KI: How are you tender with yourself right now?
PT: Right now that means taking care of my body. I get overwhelmed and burnt out easily as someone with a non-normative brain, so I’ve been trying to be more aware of what my physical and mental boundaries look like, normalizing rest, saying no, and allowing my brain and body to do the things they naturally want to do without shutting them down when they don’t align with neurotypicality. So, what that really means is that I’ve been playing a lot of video games and not looking at my email as much!
KI: What’s next for you?
PT: I have a few shows that I’m currently working toward, including a show at Nationale in Portland, OR, in March that I’m both very excited and nervous for! What’s immediately next for me, however, is making a pot roast tonight, which I am also excited for as well as nervous to make!
K. IVER is from Mississippi. Their poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Gulf Coast, BOAAT, Puerto del Sol, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. They have a Ph.D. in Poetry from Florida State University. They are the 2021-2022 Ronald Wallace Fellow for Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.