Henry Taylor’s Paintings of Black Masters Caddies Chronicle a Complicated History
Los Angeles-based artist’s exhibition titled “Henry Taylor. Disappeared, but a Tiger Showed Up, Later” brings meaning to otherwise anonymous Black caddies.
The topic of racial justice in America today has reached a ubiquitous and fevered pitch that demands the attention, understanding, and movement toward progress of all of this country’s citizens.
Los Angeles-based artist Henry Taylor, whose work has been exhibited widely and is housed in the collections of many of America’s major art museums, tackles this topic with a critical even-handedness in the worlds of golf and horse racing in a fascinating exhibition titled “Henry Taylor. Disappeared, but a Tiger Showed Up, Later," which is currently being shown at the Hauser & Wirth Southampton gallery in New York through Aug. 1. Taylor’s mostly large acrylic paintings focus on the Masters Tournament’s now-extinct tradition of only allowing Black caddies to work the event each April.
Indeed, all must cringe when reminded that Augusta National Golf Club and Masters co-founder Clifford Roberts once said, “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white and caddies will be Black.”
In 1982, the club revoked that requirement and allowed players to use the caddies of their choice, many of whom the pros employed for the entire season. While this represented progress of sorts, it also meant that the presence of Black men in golf would most definitely decline.
Taylor, 58, is an inventive and intuitive portraitist. His figurative work reflects in breathtaking ways the art of Picasso, Matisse, David Hockney, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and the more contemporary so-called graffiti artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“While some would describe Henry Taylor’s style as untrained, primitive or naïve, he’s had solid training as a painter, having studied at the California Institute of the Arts near L.A.,” said Joseph Slusky, a Berkeley-based sculptor and retired professor from the University of California-Berkeley. “His subjects come from all walks of life, and whether it’s a celebrity, an athlete or a homeless person living on the street near his L.A. studio, his portraits go deeply into people’s souls and psyches. In other words, he’s very real.”
Taylor took the images for this show’s work from archival photographs, several of which he glosses with sepia-toned brush strokes and drips of paint, which give the work the illusory patina of age. One piece set during the 1960 Masters is titled, “We Was Watching Him, but They Really Was Watching Us.” In it, many golf fans will easily identify Ben Hogan by the iconic finish of his swing, and his onlooking playing partner Arnold Palmer by his broad shoulders and the insouciant manner in which he rests his hands on his hips. Behind them stand a row of Black caddies, clad in their Masters-required white boiler suits and green caps, carefully supporting their players’ bags.