Posted by: gatheringwater | 2008/12/24

Art Is What Sticks

Port Hadlock artist Jesse Taylor stands proudly in front of his truck.

Port Hadlock artist Jesse Taylor stands proudly in front of his truck.

Writers are told, “Write about what you know.” If you make art with found objects, I guess the advice would be, “Stick to what surrounds you.” In Jesse Taylor’s case that would include doll heads, razor blades, hummingbird wings, skateboard parts, assorted skulls, and lots and lots of colorful plastic action figures. Thousands of pieces are glued to his truck, which he uses for his landscaping business. And, because people are bound to ask, he uses Household Goop to make them stick.

Jesse said he’d been decorating his truck for several years, but it was a still a work in progress. He pointed to places where stuff had fallen off and to bare spots he planned to fill. One side of the truck is heavily decorated with painted bottle caps, which formed a scaly texture. “It’s like dinosaur skin,” he told me. I don’t know if anyone really knows what dinosaur skin looked like, but Jesse is one of those talented people who can make real what they have never seen. Whatever the fossil record, I was convinced the bottle cap effect was what dinosaur skin ought to have looked like.

I wanted to know if Jesse had personally collected all the bottle caps. “From the door forward,” he admitted, “I pretty much quit drinking after that.”

a detail view of the hood of Jesse Taylor's truck

a detail view of the hood of Jesse Taylor's truck

He told me that if I liked his truck, I should see some of the stuff he had at home. His place was tucked between the pink, purple, and green facade of Port Hadlock’s Big Pig thrift store (complete with wooden cut-outs of pigs on the exterior walls of the building) and Bloomer’s Landing, a restaurant with an airplane fuselage “crashing” through its side. It seemed to me that these buildings, with their stuck-on decorations, were appropriate neighbors for a man with a genius for sticking stuff to other stuff.

Jesse’s trailer was underneath a tall industrial-strength canopy, which served as a garage, workshop, and play area for the Taylor family. Jesse started to show me around his place, and I was immediately drawn toward a long workbench with so many colorful little items on it that it was at first hard to tell what was a toy or a skateboard wheel, and what was a intricately pieced-together sculpture. My first impressions were hallucinatory and disturbing: Here was the saccharine figurine of a little girl altered to show her castrating a pair of plastic testicles larger than her head. Nearby, a little plastic man appeared to be enjoying congress with a little plastic camel. A painfully stereotypical caricature of a black man with a slice of watermelon shared space with the kind of tribal carving found at African import shops. Knives. Brass knuckles. A mummified bat. A tiny surfer cresting the lip of a coral-colored plastic vagina. Disjointed plastic baby heads, torsos, and limbs. And could that be a cat’s skull? It was like somebody was making a kaleidoscope out of the debris from every trailer park in which I’d ever lived, including all the casual racism, the grubby sexuality, and every tacky cast-off Happy Meal toy. And as Jesse guided me from sculpture to sculpture, it became clear that, like a kaleidoscope, these material reflections of his world had been worked into new and interesting patterns.

“The crazy thing is that this was all garbage,” he explained. “All this is stuff that people were going to throw away.” I thought the cast-off with the most interesting history was definitely the tie rack salvaged from Frank Herbert’s old home on Ivy Street in Port Townsend that now served as a base for a sculpture. (White plastic spheres on black metal: a retro-futuristic look appropriate for a science fiction writer.) The skulls were interesting to see, but I was a little queasy about their provenance. Jesse reassured me. A beautifully tapered seagull skull was discovered as a skull, not taken for that purpose from a bird. (“My old lady found it at the dump.”) Jesse found the cat’s skull in the course of his work as a landscape contractor. “I’ll be working on the side of the road and chopping down bushes that have been there for maybe 30 years and there’s old Mr. Tittles, under the bushes. Nobody could find him. He got whacked by a car and had just enough energy to make it under a bush.” When I suggested that it was a sad end for Mr. Tittles, Jesse disagreed. “Well, he’s getting a tenth life now, isn’t he? Instead of being turned into dust, just going back into the earth. I give him a tenth life, so people get to see him now and say, ‘What the hell?'”

There is something in this viewpoint that appeals to me. Before meeting Jesse, I had planned to donate my body to Science. Now, I wonder if it would be possible to donate at least part of it to Art.

Each piece in Jesse’s workspace seemed to have an interesting story attached to its origin. “My buddy fried himself out on crank and he came over here one day talking about spiders being under his skin and shit and I was like, ‘Whoa, dude! You should sleep later. It’s much easier on your constitution. After I saw him, I made that fucker.” Jesse pointed out one of his sculptures. Another friend on crank inspired a different sculpture. A billiards ball featured prominently in its base, along with two rusty razor blades. As Jesse reached over to work some mechanism to set the piece in motion, the blades whizzed ominously close to his upturned wrist. The effect was intentional. “This one’s got razor blades and eight balls spinning around,” he explained. “I told him if you mess around with eight balls and razor blades and spin around, it’s like slashing your own wrist.” I didn’t like to ask about the sculpture he called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome on A Stick but I imagined there was a story that had inspired that one, too.

"Centaur Baby" by Jesse Taylor (a portion of "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome on a Stick" is visible in the upper left)

"Centaur Baby" by Jesse Taylor (a portion of "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome on a Stick" is visible in the upper left)

When I asked Jesse what he called his medium, he said he had “no fucking idea.” I’d describe it as assemblage. Even if he didn’t use a fancy name to describe his work, his comment about Mr. Tittle’s tenth life expressed an idea similar to a quote from one of the twentieth century’s most famous assemblage artists, Louise Nevelson. She said, “When you put together things that other people have thrown out, you’re really bringing them to life – a spiritual life that surpasses the life for which they were originally created.” I think that is at least as true for his art as it was for hers.

Jesse has not yet had a gallery show, but he is interested in selling his work, which he has priced between $60 and $150. You may reach him at (360) 385-3744.

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Responses

  1. Way to go, richard!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jesse Dahlink, your da man!!! sooooo happy for you, my freakishly, artsy, and talented friend!LUV U

  2. Reeeeek!!!!!!!!!!! jessy T rules all!!!!!


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