Taylor Wright at 35×35

Taylor Wright, “Hog Blossom,” 2021, oil on panel, 24 x 40 in.


In a review of Taylor Wright’s exhibit at Bountiful Davis Art Center in 2021, Geoff Wichert wrote that Wright’s paintings ” create a feeling of super-realism bordering on trompe l’oeil—painting that fools the eye with its optical presence. Like photographs, they invite the viewer to see right through the image and believe themselves instead to be in the presence of the actual thing it represents.” At the same time, Wichert writes, “Wright’s canvases share with the viewer a sense of unease about things that is elusive, hard to pin down, but clearly present.”

In paintings like “Hogblossom,” Wright works in the tradition of 17th & 18th vanitas paintings, but updates the genre within a 21st-century context of, in the artist’s words, “routine mass shootings, surveillance, police executions, and a feedback loop of escalating alienation & spiritual crisis.” Traditionally, these paintings contained collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures. They exhorted the viewer to consider mortality and to repent.

In Wright’s contemporary interpretation, the central focus is on an opulent, yet disturbing still life that includes a raw slab of meat dominating the canvas, presented on a classical pedestal dish, flanked by two plates bearing dismembered, unidentifiable pieces of flesh. This central image of meat is a direct reference to the traditional vanitas theme of the ephemeral nature of life, but it also conjures a sense of violence and death that is more visceral and immediate than the subtle reminders found in its 17th-century predecessors.

The backdrop is a dark drapery, a common element in classic still lifes, which here adds to the somber mood of the scene. The inclusion of bullets lined up in the foreground introduces a contemporary and unsettling element. They are at odds with the historical setting and traditional symbolism of the vanitas genre, serving instead as a stark reminder of the prevalence of gun violence in today’s society.

The flowers, usually symbolic of the brevity of life because of their quick decay after blooming, are juxtaposed with these symbols of modern violence, suggesting a link between the natural cycle of life and death and the unnatural deaths resulting from mass shootings. This suggests a desensitization or normalization of such violence in modern times.

The deep shadows and the use of chiaroscuro heighten the dramatic effect and focus our attention on the objects. There is a palpable tension between the beauty of the painting’s execution and the horror of what it represents. The juxtaposition of the classical with the contemporary compels the viewer to consider the contrasts and continuities in society’s relationship with death and violence.



Artists of Utah’s 35×35Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Feb. 23

Categories: 35x35

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