Digging It

When artist Madai Taylor was growing up, he spent a lot of time outside wandering in the woods. “Inside the home there was often chaos,” says the Fort Dodge artist, who was raised in poverty in the Arkansas Delta region. “Outdoors I found serenity.” Rainy days didn’t even keep him inside. Instead, “playing and scratching around in the mud” calmed him, he says.

Taylor never outgrew his boyhood fascination with mud. Today, he uses it to create compelling and surprisingly nuanced and diverse abstract “paintings” and three-dimensional works, some of which are currently are on display at Moberg Gallery. To make his pieces, he gathers soil, sifts it into a fine dirt and mixes it with water and a bonding agent. He applies the mixture to large sheets of wet paper and then draws, using tools and instruments such as sticks, branches, combs, rocks, high-pressure water hoses and rakes, as well as his hands–but never brushes or sponges. He then “wipes the excess dirt away,” he says, forming the work through a reductive process.

Taylor has traveled to Mexico, Central America and around the country to gather dirt. Each locale contains soil with varying textures, color tones and gradations, creating a range of palette possibilities, he says. For example, in Iowa, he’s worked with rich, dark soil as well as gypsum found in strip mines near Fort Dodge.

Wherever the dirt is from, though, Taylor says he views the medium as divine, a link between spirit and life on earth. “It’s timeless and of the soul,” he says. “It’s something everyone can relate to; it’s a part of them.” He adds that he believes he was “divinely led” to work with the earth in his art. “I didn’t have the money to spend on paint,” he recalls. “Out of the hardships of my life came this creative spirit, and the medium itself was the result of divine channeling. There are definitely forces at work greater than myself.”

The Moberg exhibit runs through March 23.

Pictured: “The Shadow of the Moon” by Madai Taylor, 48 X 48 inches. 


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