Breaking Down Barriers: Wesley Taylor

Blurring the lines - any and all of them
Bridging [all of] the gaps
Creating a way around the lines
Coloring outside of the lines

Where is the line between art and technology? What about between music and the visual arts? Education and vocation? Wesley Taylor has built a career around exploring and challenging those boundaries. Not only does he address these questions in his work as a visual artist, musician, and graphic designer, but he also personifies them as a multi-disciplinary artist living in Ann Arbor while bringing his work to life in Detroit.

Taylor's first experience with the borders between the two artistic communities came as an Ann Arbor teen, courtesy his hip-hop group, the Athletic Mic League.

"The rap community here was small, but close knit," Taylor says."As we started to get older, we started to going to a lot of shows, really building the scene. We saw that Ann Arbor had a lot of potential."

Taylor was surprised to discover that as Ann Arbor's hip-hop culture grew there was very little friction with Detroit's scene. Instead the two communities began to complement one another.

"We started working really close with Detroit artists and Chicago artists, and the connections started to strengthen," he says."We were dwarfed by Detroit, but we became a living, viable option and Ann Arbor became a stop and consideration as far as performing goes."

The Athletic Mic League also gave Taylor his first opportunity to blur the lines in his own life. The group was committed to taking things to the next level but remaining independent, and so each member dedicated himself to perfecting one aspect of the music business.  For Taylor, it was album art.

"I just started to learn how to design out of necessity, making album covers and posters and stuff like that," says Taylor. "We wanted to look and sound as professional as possible."

So it was through teenage ambition, sheer force of will, and innate creativity that Taylor became a working graphic designer - before he even set foot inside the University of Michigan's School of Art and Design as a freshman.

At the U, Taylor studied a variety of art disciplines, and emerged with wide ranging experiences in artistic media, simultaneously refining and igniting his interest in art, music, education, entrepreneurship, and technology. Each may seem disparate but Taylor has, through his numerous projects, tied them together seamlessly.

Take his presence in the local hip-hop scene. Taylor has partnered with the Detroit artist Invincible, adding talent management to his job description, to form the company Emergence Media. Of course, he's not your typical hip hop promoter.

"I'm trying to bring my work as a visual artist back into my music," Taylor says."I don't think that the album cover is viable anymore because the way most people consume music has nothing to do with a physical copy of anything. But then I feel as though there are other opportunities to provide something people can hold on to or touch when they listen to music."

For Taylor, that tangible thing is a music box. That's right, an actual music box, that plays an Invincible song when the lid is opened. "It has a lot of historical connotations," he explains. "It's one of the original ways music was put into people's homes."

The music box blends art, history, technology and music in a way that's innovative and unique. Much like Taylor himself. And that's just a small sample of the multimedia projects he and Invicible have in mind. The pair have also partnered with music producer Waajeed  to win an MAP Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop "Complex Movements," an interactive hip-hop performance using video projection, sculptural art, and technology to explore relationships between complex sciences and social-justice movements.

These are big ideas, but that's Taylor. He thinks big. Which is how he ended up with a 10,000-square foot Detroit studio.

"I find it hard to do what I do in Ann Arbor," he says."Having space, and having the ability to make messes when I need to, and make big things when I need to - Ann Arbor makes that difficult."

Room, however, is something Detroit has in spades. After his recent graduation from Cranbrook Academy of Art with a Masters degree in 2-D design, Taylor and four other Cranbrook grads opened an artists' collective called Talking Dolls in a former Detroit toy warehouse. The studio includes a wood shop, silk screen facility, art gallery, and even a theater.

The studio hasn't, however, changed Taylor's mind about living in Ann Arbor. "I see a lot happening here," he says,"in terms of art and technology being brought together in an intentional manner. So, I kind of live in Ann Arbor, do in Detroit."

Talking Dolls is just the first step in Taylor's vision for a worldwide network of artist collectives.

"In Detroit there is a lot of history of makers and fabricators, and people can come to my studio and make big, ambitious works," Taylor says. "And then they can go to New York and work with establish galleries and curators."

Even with a global perspective and a career that spreads him across an array of industries and artistic media, Taylor still sees one boundary in that seems to remain firmly in place: the barrier that separates Ann Arbor's and Detroit's art communities.

"On a music level," says Taylor,"there is less of a distinction between Ann Arbor and Detroit, and I think that's because of the musical history for this area. In the arts, I don't think it has that same sort of history. Artists can't flow that freely from Ann Arbor to Detroit and Detroit to Ann Arbor. You're not a Detroit artist if you don't live in Detroit. If you're a card-carrying member of Detroit, you get a pass."

While Taylor asserts that he doesn't spend too much time worrying about whether or not he has achieved membership status in the Detroit arts community, he certainly lives in opposition to the barrier. His goal, he says, isn't to prove anything, but to live and work by example. Though it only takes him about a half an hour to get from the door of his Ann Arbor home to his various studios and workplaces, he passes through the invisible boundary that separates Detroit from Ann Arbor on a regular basis. And encourages others to do so as well.

Perhaps his experience with building up Ann Arbor's hip-hop arena is enough to make him confident that the walls will eventually fall. All that's needed is artists like himself to travel back and forth between the cities.

And speaking of his teenage hip-hop work, Taylor has his sights set on getting back into the music scene. Which might make you wonder when he intends to sleep given his commitments to Emergence Media, Talking Dolls and - oh yeah - teaching duties at Eastern Michigan University, and Lawrence Tech in Southfield.

"To me, it doesn't seem like a lot," he says."It's just doing stuff I like to do, and I like pushing my capacity. I really don't think about it."

Which is probably a good thing. From breaking down boundaries to building global communities, Taylor clearly has enough to think about as it is.

Natalie Burg is a freelance writer, the news editor for Capital Gains, and a regular contributor to Metromode and Concentrate.


All photos by Doug Coombe


Wesley Taylor printing t shirts at Talking Dolls
Wesley Taylor printing t shirts at Talking Dolls
Wesley Taylor printing t shirts at Talking Dolls
Waajeed, Invincible and Wesley Taylor outside of Talking Dolls
Wesley Taylor
Circuitry for the Invincible music box
Invincible and Waajeed soldering circuits for the music boxes
Invincible, Wesley Taylor and Waajeed working on the music boxes
Invincible, Wesley Taylor and Waajeed inside Talking Dolls
Waajeed, Invincible and Wesley Taylor outside Talking Dolls

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