Artistic Growth Among the Bees, Trees, and Modern Life
"A humbling moment when I discovered there is so much more to learn in our own backyards."
The Department of Art is pleased to catch-up with BFA Alum Taylor Robers to explore her path to school, artmaking, and finding her artistic voice. We also take a moment to discuss what's next for this young artist, as she navigates through a pandemic.
Q: When you were a kid did you think you'd go to college for art?
A: Not at all. Art was what I did in my freetime when I was a kid, I didn't think about it as a career. Although, I gave myself mini challenges weekly to build my skills. It wasn't until I was in high school that I began to see art as something more than just what "I did." It really changed for me when I started the Postsecondary Enrollment Options Program and enrolled at the U of MN at 16 years old. While I thought I'd go into science, what I found was two encouraging professors and classes that gave me energy -- I looked forward to them. I took a drawing class with Mathew Zefeldt and a painting class with Christine Baeumler; this was it, this was when I realized how important art was to me and I knew I was going to do art. My parents could also see how these courses made me happy and were very encouraging.
Q: What was your favorite class & why?
A: One of my most influential classes was during my third year, Art & Ecology with Christine Baeumler. It felt like a full circle moment for me, because she was my Intro to Painting teacher when I was a PSEO student and she helped me realize art was my future. Art & Ecology was so important to me, I learned so much and I was really inspired. During my college career, I was always interested in animals and nature, but I couldn't quite figure out how to bring those interests together in a contemporary art way. The course showed me a lot of meaningful connections between art and ecology and where I could make my own path.
Q: Your work has nature or the natural world as the central focus. Is that something you've always been interested in? Or is that a more recent discovery?
A: College is about finding your voice, and this was the time in my life that helped me get back to the idea of nature--a love since childhood. One of the most influential books I received as a kid is The Encyclopedia of Animals by Karen McGhee and George McKay, Ph.D. It has 300 pages of illustrations; so many species big and small. Exploring this book, these illustrations, was how I first got into art, by drawing animals. I used art as a way of accessing and experiencing animals and habitats that I couldn't normally experience in my own backyard. And, working from nature brought me outside regularly.
The Art & Ecology course re-awakened this part of my artmaking, integrating my interests in art and the natural world to create a new look, new perspective on how we see nature. Actually, the restrictions of life in a pandemic has also re-focused me on nature, being outside, and having a raw studio space to work.
Q: As an artist, have you had an "aha!" moment?
A: I think there's always a lot as you learn in college, but there was a humbling moment when I discovered there is so much more to learn in our own backyards. People from the Bee Lab came to the Art & Ecology course and provided such insights-- there are 450 native bees in Minnesota alone. At the time, I thought I knew a bit about nature, but then I learned there's so much more in our ecological systems. Right now, I am thinking about landscape painting in the sense of what makes up our landscape. What organisms and ecological systems do we miss when we don't take time to observe closely?
Q: Now that you've earned your BFA degree, what's next on your "to do list?"
A: I took a year off, but now this fall / winter I'll be applying to MFA programs, graduate schools such as University of Washington and UC Santa Barbara, mostly west, but a little east coast too. I feel like I'm just now starting to own my artistic voice, I think getting an MFA will help me fine tune it. I'm also interested in teaching, so I'd love to be able to be a working artist and educator.
Q: Do you have a COVID Craft?
A: Well, I started with an air dried clay for fun, I made flowers and little fungi people. But, I was too committed to that craft and ended up incorporating the clay into my paintings as a texture base.
Q: When you make art, do you listen to music or podcasts? If so, what's on your playlist?
A: If I need to focus, I listen to music, but the type of music always changes. On Apple Music right now, the "AcoustiQC" playlist - Quebec acoustic in French. I also listen to podcasts: ArmChair Expert with Dax Shepard, Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend. One of my favorites and recommendations is Ologies, the focus-in the "ologies" of science. I've recently enjoyed in-depth podcasts about moss, deer, and bats, among others.