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Howard Taylor
, 1988 (printed 2001)

by John Austin

gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned (sheet: 43.0 cm x 40.5 cm, image: 31.0 cm x 31.0 cm)

Howard Taylor AM (1918-2001), painter, sculptor, graphic artist and teacher, trained in England before the war, which he spent largely as a prisoner in Stalag Luft III. In 1951 he was appointed as a teacher at Perth Technical College, and for many years he continued to teach part-time. Through the 1960s and 70s he concentrated on sculpture and executed a number of major public commissions in Perth. During the 1980s he turned to pastels and paintings. Taylor was renowned for his slow and impeccable craftsmanship, and his work is powerfully evocative of long and patient observation of natural phenomena. Taylor was awarded two honorary doctorates, and the WA State Government named him a living treasure and citizen of the year in 1999 and 2000. In an obituary, Daniel Thomas commented that 'after the death of the very different and much more erratic Arthur Boyd, Taylor was our best artist of any kind.'

This photograph was made at Taylor's studio on March 18, 1988, while he was designing the sculpture that was a gift from the people of Western Australia to the New Parliament House in Canberra. Austin writes that he 'had finished photographing, and turned to ask Howard if he wanted a coffee brought from the house. Howard had already stopped sort-of-not-quite-posing and had returned to concentrating on the design. I made this image very quickly with the last frame in my Rolleiflex. Realising I was on to something good at last I quickly reloaded and made another 8 exposures, these 8 images are, of course, boring. Some things are just given.'

The back view of the artist echoes art critic Ben Genocchio's perception of the 'real emotion, mystery and intrigue' of Taylor's late work, and his own modesty, expressed in the idea that art, when not the result of practical procedures, is 'simply the old fumble . . . [t]he more intangible aspects are not encouraged . . . suspect - known [but] kept quiet.'

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2001
Accession number: 2001.175