Art Dictionary

Philip Taaffe

Biography

Philip Taaffe (*1955 in Elizabeth, New Jersey) lives and works in New York. 1974-1977: studied at the The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. His first solo show was in 1982 in New York. Taaffe's travels have taken him to the Middle East, India, South America, and Morocco. His work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions.

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Book related to this subject

Philip Taaffe

Philip Taaffe
The Life of Forms. Works 1980-2008

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-2121-9
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Paths of Decorative Abstraction

"What do I want my art to accomplish? ... I think the best thing one can hope for is to be able to enter into another world." (Philip Taaffe)

The arabesques, ornaments and geometrical motifs of the American artist Philip Taaffe (born 1955) offer a visual pleasure which has more than once been described as decorative—a term which, in the art world, is not always intended as a compliment.

However, his Postmodern approach to found natural forms is only the visible part of his involvement with arabesques and a decorative ornamentation. His works are primarily a critical and reflective engagement with abstraction, and an attempt to reformulate it through the idea of crossing cultures. Starting with a monochrome background, Taaffe builds up rhythmic, abstract and floral motifs, and geometrical forms in successive layers, producing something close to a new form of objectivity.

Following a series of works that appropriated images and visual elements from works of American abstraction and Op Art, Taaffe has been using ornamental motifs from the art and architectural history of various cultures since the early 1990s. He integrates into his opulent works flower and animal motifs, such as stylized lilies, butterflies, beetles, insects, snakes, lizards; but also Uzbek tile patterns, turned lathe patterns, and spiral motifs. Taaffe blends the abstract with the decorative, the intellectual with the sensual, and nature with culture in endless repetitions, which seem only arbitrarily to be limited by the edge of the canvas.

However, what appears at first sight as a purely formal spectrum of associations is in fact more than that. It is also a protest by the artist against the constant pressure to innovate, and a playful freedom with the familiar which gives rise to the new.

Taaffe, who lives in New York, uses different ethnic motifs, links them together, and composes a new language of forms. They show the unmistakable influence on Taaffe of numerous journeys through the Middle East, India, South America, and Morocco, and the mixing of different cultural and ethnic forms seems to create a universal visual language.

June 28, 2010 Caroline Schilling

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