Gary Taxali is one of Canada’s most illustrious artists and illustrators, best known for his retro stylized cartoons and pop-art.
His work has been featured in some of the most prestigious museums in the world like the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Jonathan LeVine Gallery and The Andy Warhol Museum. Gary’s created work for Sony, Warner Brothers, Converse, Nintendo, as well as major print publications like Time, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, GQ, Esquire, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. Born in India and raised in Canada, Gary’s art has been influenced by a variety of environments, cultures, and of course – music. In honour of this Sunday’s CCMAs, we sat down with Gary to talk about country, Canadian art and how music affects his work.
When did you first get into country?
I started getting into country inspired music from a pretty early age of around 14 or 15. It started with me getting into a lot of bands that were into the whole “cow punk” thing, like Green on Red and Gun Club who were country inspired.
You described country music in your video as having a “darkness” to it – were you first attracted to the non-traditional country sound?
Absolutely. I think there is an amazing history in the music of rebellion. The sound stems from folk music to express people’s emotions surrounded by an environment of living and strife and hardship.
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"It's Over", artwork created for Aimee Mann's album "@#%&*! Smilers" a few years ago. We collaborated on this one, which makes it one of my favourite pieces from the album. The 17 illustrations (including the cover) earned us a Grammy nomination for Best Art Package. #garytaxali #taxali #art @realaimeemann
What your relationship is with art and music? Is there a specific song or album that’s influenced your work directly?
Music is an intrinsic part of my creative process. Not so much when I’m coming up with ideas, because I need silence for that, but after I’ve formulated what I want to draw or paint, music serves as a catalyst in the the creative process of making the work. It’s a beautiful soundtrack to my work. Music’s almost like an art supply to me. It holds me in place. It offers a musical accompaniment to my creativity that happens when I’m in the zone of making. I can credit to specific albums to entire bodies of work I’ve done, like Blind Willie McTell for example. Music sometimes serves as the musical equivalent to what I’m drawing.
I want to ask you about your piece, “Cowboys And Indian” – can you tell me a bit of back story about it?
I grew up loving in watching Western films with my father. He would take me to the library and I really gravitated to reading cowboy stories. I loved the illustrations. And then one day, after my career was developed, I was invited by the Art Director’s Club of Houston, Texas to come and do a talk. They asked me to do an image to make a poster for them so they could promote the event. I thought it would be kind of cheeky and funny to call it “Cowboys and Indian” since the Texans are cowboys and I’m the Indian person. I drew this little cowboy character and in the speech bubble of the character, it says my name Gary in Hindi. When I got to Texas, I was signing my posters for the attendees. Afterwards, someone asked me what the speech bubble said and I said, “Oh, that’s my name, Gary, in Hindi”. They thought it was the word “art” because my name Gary in Hindi looks the English word for art! Serendipity happens everywhere around us and sometimes you just have to kind of look at things from a different perspective to see how things are more connected than they otherwise appear to be.
You said in your video that country is “on the pulse” of the times – what album do you think reflects that sentiment?
A album that I think is timeless from when I first heard it is “Miami” by The Gun Club. Another would be “Northern Passages” by Canadian rock/country group, The Sadies– I love everything from both bands. They have a way of just tapping into the exact tone, vibe and pulse of the times. I think that comes from honest expression, and from a human beings who are just looking at the world around them and trying to express their souls. I think really good musicians are just reflectors or conduits, of the human experience. They’re kind of messengers in a way.
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I am proud to be among the 100 artists for The Brain Project, a public art exhibition in Toronto by Baycrest to raise funds and awareness about brain health. Today, Mayor John Tory and I unveiled my artwork "My Heart Knows You" in a press conference at City Hall, where it is now on public display. The work is based on the idea of connecting with people you love. A person suffering from Alzheimer's (or age-related dementia) may not have memory recall of those they know and love, but their heart surely has recognition. I painted various fictional characters and words to convey possible stories and events in a person's life. I wanted to evoke the notion of a mental diary, or perhaps even a love letter to a partner, friend, or family member. This also runs both ways, for I believe that a person who's afflicted with dementia also connects with the hearts of those they know and love. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease. It takes the people we love away from us. But despite this, the bond of love is unfathomed…because our hearts always know. #garytaxali #taxali #art #thebrainprojectto #noblankbrains
Honesty is definitely important for connection in art and music – how do you convey honesty in your work?
It’s something that I try not to be too conscious of because then you’re being contrived at the same time. I think that my intentions come from a place of just trying to be honest with myself. All you can do is cross your fingers and hope that people pick up on who you are and what you’re trying to say. I draw every day, and it’s my job. I try and do things in my work where I eliminate second guessing. I don’t draw in pencil, I use pen and ink, brushes. For me, I figure those first initial marks are where honesty lies because you can’t remove the mark, your hands just flows on the paper or the canvas, and that’s where the honest expression lies.