Montana State University

MSU graduate student wins Mitchell award supporting emerging artists

May 21, 2008 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Caleb Taylor's work, which has evolved while a graduate art student at MSU from portraiture to large, vibrant abstract paintings, has earned Taylor a Joan Mitchell grant. The Mitchell Grant is considered one of the country's most prestigious awards for young artists. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
A revealing national award has resulted from technique that includes concealed paintings that Caleb Taylor developed during his last year as a graduate student at Montana State University.

Taylor, who recently graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts in painting from the MSU School of Art, won a $15,000 grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Taylor is one of 15 national recipients of the prestigious award that supports up-and-coming artists. He is the first MSU student to receive the grant, funded by the foundation named for the famous abstract artist.

"Caleb's award from the Joan Mitchell Foundation is very significant as this is probably the most highly competitive award in the country for graduate students who are finishing their degree," said Richard Helzer, director of the MSU School of Art. Helzer explained that the award carries both a cash award and a New York City show. "This show is seen by all the big gallery people and the exposure of your work is unmatched. Caleb will no doubt get some opportunities for other exhibitions as a result of this prestigious award."

"The grant makes me feel like I am on the path to something," Taylor said "It's a nice confirmation of the work I've been doing."

Taylor's work comes in all sizes. Often he begins with small paintings, about a foot square, but many of his paintings are large canvases, sometimes 6-by-7 feet.

Regardless of size, his paintings share a technique that begins with detailed paintings of such things as kidneys and stomachs taken from anatomy books. Then, Taylor paints over the first layer of imagery with large, bold geographic shapes that mask-off large portions of the original paintings so that they are only hinted at by the fragments that remain on canvas. Sometimes his large paintings include collages of smaller paintings. Taylor calls the process "concealing and revealing."

"Actually, this series was fairly controversial for some of the people who came to my MFA show," Taylor said. He explained that some people who see the paintings believe that Taylor has taken away too much information from them. "But the stimulation of strong feelings is something good art should do," Taylor said.

Taylor said he arrived at the technique after "lots and lots of work." Taylor said his work particularly evolved as he was preparing for his graduate show in March and found himself working through the night at the MSU graduate art studio west of campus.

"I make big work, which requires a lot of concentration and when people are around, well, I am a socializer," Taylor said. "But when everyone left, I'd do my best work."

Taylor is grateful that the judges for the Mitchell Award also found merit in his paintings. He said he is validated by the award, which he will use to pay for studio space in Kansas City beginning this July. There he will prepare new paintings for the Mitchell show in the CUE Arts Foundation in the Chelsea district of Manhattan sometime during the next year.

Taylor said he looks forward to returning to the Kansas City area, which is about 100 miles from Maryville, Mo., where he grew up. Taylor said he always knew he was an artist, although he first enrolled in graphic design at Northwest Missouri State University, which is located in his hometown. He soon found that manipulating materials with his hands appealed to him more than working on computers, as required by graphic design. So, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics and painting.

One of Taylor's mentors at NWMSU was Armin Muhsam, an MSU graduate who encouraged Taylor to apply to graduate school at MSU, particularly because he wanted him to study with Harold Schlotzhauer, MSU painting professor.

"I've painted a lot, met influential people and figured out some stuff while I was here," Taylor said. "This time has been significant for me."

Taylor also worked as an assistant to several Bozeman-area artists, including Gennie DeWeese. He was DeWeese's assistant at the time of her death this winter. DeWeese was prolific until her death, with 12 paintings in the last eight months of her life, Taylor said.

"I felt my work with Gennie was an important exchange," Taylor said, adding that he will delay his move to Kansas City until after an estate show of DeWeese's art to be held in June.

Also influential was MSU professor and painter Rollin Beamish, who had once received a Mitchell award himself and encouraged Taylor to apply. He also encouraged Taylor to develop his resume by applying for residencies and grants and awards. As a result Taylor has also received two residencies and a fellowship to Think Tank III for Emerging Educators to be held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in June.

Taylor said he enjoyed teaching while at MSU, and plans to teach in the future, but for now, his life is about his revealing work, which has evolved in his three years at MSU from pottery and representational portraits with abstract elements to the large abstract paintings he's working on now.

"The grant is in support of my work, so the next four or five years will be all about my work. Lots and lots of work."

Caleb Taylor (406) 994-4491,, Rich Helzer 994-4501