Taylor Baldwin (b. Tucson, AZ 1983) is an artist working primarily in sculpture, video, and installation. He received a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 2005 and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007. He was a resident at the Fine Arts Work Center, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, the Seven Below Arts Initiative, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Baldwin has exhibited his work Conner Contemporary Gallery (Washington D.C.) , Land of Tomorrow Gallery (Louisville, KY), and Vox Populi (Philadelphia, PA) as well as in groups shows at the Queens Museum of Art (NY), Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art (Tucson, AZ), the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (Norfolk, VA), the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Craft (Louisville, KY) and P.P.O.W. Gallery (New York, NY). He currently has an appointment as Assistant Professor in the Sculpture Department at the Rhode Island School of Design, and is based in Providence, Rhode Island and Queens, NY.
What have you been up to since graduating from VCU?
Looking back on the period of time between graduating from VCU and now, it seems sort of impossible that all of the things that happened actually fit into such a relatively short period of time. Since 2007, I’ve continued to maintain a regular studio practice housed in a series of questionably zoned warehouse buildings throughout the northeast. During this time, I was also able to begin teaching sculpture and foundation 3-dimensional studio at a collegiate level. I’ve
had the opportunity to show work across the country in lots of group shows, as well as a few one-person exhibitions. I was lucky enough to be accepted into several amazing artist residency programs, such as the Fine Arts Work Center, Bemis Center, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and was able attend them more or less consecutively for 3-4 years. After this incredibly productive, semi-itinerant period, I returned to Richmond in order to continue to teach and develop a body of work that could capitalize on the shifts in my studio practice that had come from these new experiences with other institutions and frameworks. Recently I was hired as an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI where I currently live and work. As of now, I am working on a body of work for a one-person exhibition at Rare Gallery in New York City in the spring of 2016.
What advice would you give a current VCU Sculpture student?
Try hard and be Nice. Another artist told me that, so I can’t take credit for it, but it’s still pretty perfect.
How did VCU prepare you for your current situation?
Quite honestly, it was the culture and community of VCU that prepared me for my current situation the most – even more so than any of the amazing courses, critical insights by faculty and peers, or discreet education I received. I may have taken it for granted while I was in school, but the culture of VCU Sculpture is exceedingly rare in the art world, and acts as a metric to which I still measure current experiences to in order to progressively develop them. It’s a culture that instills an immense sense of individual and collective capability – a much greater sense of what an artist is capable of when situated within a community of their peers. It gave me a much greater sense of my own capacity to learn things, and while it did teach me quite a few incredibly useful discreet skill sets and analytic tools, it more importantly taught me how to teach myself. The culture of curiosity, work ethic, enthusiasm, artistic integrity, and mutual support is really the most valuable set of principles I received from VCU. The type of ambition instilled by the VCU Sculpture community is also rare – it is an artistic ambition, rather than a professional ambition. The artists I met through VCU, first and foremost, want to make groundbreaking and innovative work, not necessarily have groundbreaking and lucrative professional careers in the art market. I should say of course, that they would all be open to that type of career, but not at the expense of the former. Their priorities are with the integrity of the work. It was at VCU that I first heard of the terms of a ‘3-year career’ and a ‘30-year career’. My education at VCU very clearly delimitated the distinction between the two, and gave me the tools to begin to build a long-lasting artistic inquiry, which could sustain a career and bring success without compromising artistic integrity or being consumed by a capricious market. It taught me that no artist can be a single-author, and no artist can work in a vacuum. To this last point, VCU also simultaneously showed me the value and need to be enmeshed in a community of engaged, weird, and supportive artistic peers, while also introducing me to a set of friends and artistic peers that became the foundation of my international community today. Without the extended community of VCU alumni and faculty I am a part of today, I would certainly not have met with any of the modest success I’ve been able to achieve thus far. Ultimately, these are a set of principles that have been instilled deeply in my artistic DNA, and it is to them that I place the majority of the blame/credit for where I am now.
How do you define success?
This is an unbelievably super important question for artists to ask themselves, and ultimately define for themselves in their own terms. It’s too easy to automatically internalize the larger art world’s market-driven definition of success without realizing that you are doing it, and then judge yourself by it. It’s an external metric and does not have to be your own. For myself, success is being able to continue my practice and thinking/making for as long as possible, with as few impediments as possible. There are so many new things (objects, videos, images, ideas, experiences) I want to see, and have other people see. The extent to which those traditional metrics for success (showing work, selling work, gallery representation, critical relevance, etc.) facilitate me being able to make those things and explore those ideas, is the extent to which I am interested in them, and judge them as successes. But they are by no means contingent for that success. Being able to spend a life pursuing new, weird ideas and sharing it with a community of others and their own new, weird ideas is probably my ultimate definition of success. It’s also the reason why teaching is an important aspect of that definition for success.
Why did you decide to study sculpture?
To this day, I have no idea why I initially decided to study sculpture. I have no background in sculpture or fabrication, and before beginning my education, had no evidence that I had any facility in the discipline whatsoever. I can’t answer this question directly, as to this day I still can’t believe that I actually made the decision. Looking back, I can’t see any reason why I would have. But, I can absolutely answer the question of why I continued to study it once I understood what it meant to be an artist who works in sculpture: total autonomy and creative freedom. In the fine arts, sculpture as a discipline has historically been the most adventurous and egalitarian in incorporating non-traditional and non-artistic disciplines, expertise, technical processes, and conceptual frameworks into itself. Sculpture is the place where you can do whatever you want, where you will face the least resistance to new ideas, new ways of working, and the fewest questions about the validity of your pursuits. The sculptural field has expanded well past the traditional definition of ‘sculpture’ as a three-dimensional work of art. At this point, a ‘sculptor’ is only defined as one who thinks through the medium of things (or even just perceivable phenomenon), with the understanding that the residue of that thought encrusts the things produced by the hands doing the thinking/making, and lives outside of the body/mind of the maker as meaning. Calling yourself a ‘sculptor’ is essentially just giving yourself a blank permission slip to enter into and explore whatever area of culture is exciting and relevant to you. You are accepted as a professional amateur wherever you go. Interested in volcanism? Sure. Occult mystic practices? Come on in! The intersection of traditional Japanese bathroom design, neo-nihilism, and dystopian literature? Tell me more. Sculpture is the place where you build a community with whom to carry on a conversation that helps rework the experimental extremity of culture: where it is possible to agitate the mind over odd questions and discover new ways of working. Where you are encouraged to take full advantage of a discipline where artists are given permission to entertain otherwise unrealistic notions, encouraged to pursue their profession with rigor, and allowed the grace to rethink edified parts of their practice within a critically vigorous atmosphere.
Is there a question we should ask you, but didn’t?
Question: What’s your favorite dinosaur?