When a crisis hits, some people run for cover. Other people make stuff. Taylor Shaw is definitely the latter, and quarantine proved the right opportunity for this University of South Alabama art professor to bring together his fellow artists and friends in Mobile and across the country to work on an uplifting project, all at a safe social distance.
The Destin, Florida, native has long been inspired both by street art and the nostalgic souvenir culture of touristy beach towns like Destin and Gulf Shores. By combining those two (somewhat disparate) aesthetics, Shaw has created throughout his career a number of exciting works used to beautify buildings and add a pop of happiness and color where he found blight.
“They are mostly small works,” he says, “and I prefer them to blend in or add to the building, as opposed to what you would get from typical graffiti with spray paint. It’s wood and adhesive, almost like a giant sticker.” Shaw explains that he tracks down the owners of the property, gets permission ahead of time and never focuses his art on working businesses. A recent street art installation can be seen on St. Louis Street Downtown. And while the owners of the derelict properties may know that the art is coming, to the passerby, it is a surprise and a delight.
Once the pandemic hit, Shaw’s classes moved online, and his students no longer met in person. “For someone who enjoys hands-on stuff, it was kind of a nightmare. And you feel like you’re failing at teaching the whole time because — I was not prepared for this at all.” He expresses his concern for the students and explains the challenges everyone had to overcome, but when pressed, Shaw admits quarantine treated him pretty well. “I hate to say that I was thriving, but maybe it’s because if I stop moving, I would go crazy! But I just stayed busy. I built a farm table. I restored six wooden mid-century chairs. I painted a mural.” And he cooked like crazy. The former food truck owner and participant on the “Amazing Food Truck Race” laughs that quarantine gave him the opportunity to take “a culinary journey around the world.” A whole leg of lamb for Easter, old school ham and scallop potatoes, myriad ethnic dishes, the list goes on. “I’m kind of all over the board with my interest in cooking,” he admits. Shaw even helped prepare Southern biscuits and Waffle House hash browns over Zoom with friends in Brooklyn. “The theory is, I go to a friend’s house, take whatever they have in their fridge and make a meal out of it. So we did that, but via Zoom meeting!”
But his most impactful creation during the pandemic was the quarantine quilt.
Teeing off his small wooden street art installations, which were inspired by the shapes of traditional quilts, Shaw began a virtual quilting bee. He cut hundreds of small triangles from one-eighth-inch beech plywood and shipped them out, six pieces at a time, to anyone willing to paint them.
“The US Postal Service became the backbone of the project,” he explains, as quilt pieces migrated to and from Shaw’s home studio in Mobile. Each set of six fits perfectly together in the shape of the Omaha star, a traditional quilting pattern. The stars are then curated by Shaw into a larger quilt section that is installed as one piece, creating a beautiful work of art that connects many hands and hearts during a difficult time. Several of the works are currently on display at the Mobile Arts Council, with room for the quilts to grow on the walls as new manila envelopes of wooden triangles arrive in Shaw’s mail. The postmarks crisscross the USA, but the needle and thread virtually sewing everything together has its roots along the Gulf Coast, leaving a little unexpected happiness and beauty in its wake.
5 Things That Inspire Taylor
1. Getting in the Kitchen
As a former restaurant owner and chef, I really feel at home in a kitchen. Especially since quarantine took place, it gave me a chance to spend more time working on dishes I haven’t tried before. There’s something creatively similar between cooking and making art. They both fuel each other.
2. Play Some Tunes
My tastes run everywhere. Hip-hop, classical piano, punk, blue grass, funk, and chill hop all occupy my Spotify playlists. Whenever I need a boost, there is something inherently uplifting and mood altering about a good song that really gets creativity flowing.
3. Watch Other Artists
Most of my Instagram feed is other artists. Seeing what they are creating and learning tips and tricks from graffiti artists or wood workers always gets my gears going. I love painting murals, so I’m always looking at muralists, graffiti artists and street artists. These all fuel my art practice.
4. Connection to Family
I’m constantly drawing on past experiences and my childhood as inspiration. Whether it’s woodworking and painting that I saw my mother doing growing up (her quilt piece is in the show titled “Family”) or the graphic nature of military insignias and patches that adorned my Dad’s plane and uniforms, a lot of these memories constantly influence my work. Sometimes it is in subtle ways, sometimes blatant, but I believe all artists are rooted in their upbringings.
5. Southern Culture
I was born and raised in Florida. I’ve lived in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and spent so much time in Louisiana it felt like I lived there. I believe the South has an amazing array of cultures, aesthetics and culinary masterpieces that are often overlooked. We are somewhat the underdog in America, but I truly love it and believe in a better South.