“To have even a brief conversation with artist Michael E. Taylor is to dive headfirst into a deep pool of scientific and intellectual inquiry. Taylor has always been an extremely analytical artist, responding with equal fervor to his intellectual encounters with scientific ideas, art history, philosophy, or current events. Whether inspired by formal quality of geometry, the Higgs boson particle, or the moral implications of artificial intelligence, Taylor’s work is ultimately about investigation.” – Museum of Glass, Tacoma, solo show, Traversing Parallels, 2017/2018.
Widely-renowned for his cut and laminated glass works, geometric constructions, and fractal abstractions inspired by everything from subatomic particles to music, Michael E. Taylor first used glass while attending a workshop at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. He was struck by the material’s heat and spontaneity, a dynamic opposite from the deliberate and extended processes for firing and shaping ceramics. Dedicated to art and education for over 49 years, the artist was born in Lewisberg, Tennessee, in 1944, where he initially studied ceramics while working towards a Bachelor of Science in Art Education from Tennessee State University. Studying ceramics honed his intuitive sense of form, color, and design; skills which would later be important to his glass career.
One of the first generation of artists to learn from the founders of the Studio Glass movement, Taylor experienced the early days of glass through interactions with Harvey Littleton, Fritz Dreisbach, and Marvin Lipofsky. As a young student, a Fulbright Hayes Grant to Scandinavia introduced him to the factories of Kosta-Boda Glasbruke and Johansfors Glasbruke, as well as artists of the region, including Anna Warff.
Taylor’s artistic career has been intertwined with decades as a university professor, including a more than 20-year tenure as a professor in the School for American Crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology, invited Professor at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciencias e Tecnologia, Campus da Caprica, Portugal, 2005 – 2013, and instructor at schools in the US such as Pilchuck, Penland, and the Corning Museum of Glass. His career in academia made it possible to experiment and explore new ideas through his sculpture instead of feeling pressure to repeat popular works for monetary sales. The academic setting also allowed Taylor to continue to explore scientific, philosophical, and artistic ideas.
While at the College of Idaho and teaching the history of modern art, Taylor’s directive led to political and visual expressions of the Russian revolution and artists of constructivism. The hard lines and acute angles of constructivism of the 1920s continued to scientific theory and theoretical physics. Using glass with scientific exactness and austerity resulted in further architectural form and shapes of accuracy. Readings of future science and cultural futurism led to issues of DNA and binary systems as they related to laminations in his work.
Taylor states: “Art reflects thought and ideals of the period in which it is made. It can relate to predictions for the future. My work speaks of the importance of science and technology and its eventual dominance through Artificial Intelligence.”
Taylor’s honors and awards are many and include the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Grant, 2009, 2011; Luso – American Foundation Grant, Portugal, 2002 -2007; Outstanding Visual Artist Award, Arts and Cultural Council of Greater Rochester, New York, 2001; College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, Research and Development Grant, RIT, 2000; Grand Prize, The International Exhibition of Glass, Kanazawa, Japan, 1988; National Endowment for the Arts, Visual Artists Forums Grant, 1985-86 and Visual Artist Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1984-85. Other educational awards and opportunities include a Lewis Comfort Tiffany Grant, Penland School Scholarship, and The American – Scandinavian Foundation Grant.
His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia; the National Collection of American Art, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; The Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington; Asheville Museum of Art, North Carolina; Racine Museum of Art, Racine, Wisconsin; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Glas Museum Ebeltoft, Ebeltoft, Denmark; Kanazawa City Museum, Kanazawa, Japan; and Tokyo Glass Art Institute, Kawasaki-Shi, Japan, to name only a few.
Inviting viewers to utilize scientific-like observations to analyze the implications of a rapidly changing world, Taylor’s sculpture is both triumphant and cautionary, simultaneously celebrating technological breakthroughs and worrying about their implications. By using glass to make these theoretical connections, the artist inspires contemplation of social and scientific issues and continues to take the material of glass into new expressive terrain.
States Taylor: “The race is on in all technological advanced countries for the discovery of human consciousness for AI. I predict it will be the last frontier of human intellect. I have constructed a laminated slab of color blocks which represent the codes for the human consciousness. I see it as a kind of Rosetta Stone of translation from one language to another – binary to English. The RS interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphics to Greek language allowed us to make the intellectual and cultural jump.
“I see Codes as containing the information for making the final leap from human consciousness to that of machines. This will be a discovery of epic proportions. This would be the beginning of a new world of solutions to puzzles such as eternal life, interplanetary travel, and the discovery of philosophic truth for each individual human.”