The spirit of creativity has been with Lavahna Taylor since childhood.
But, her high school experience of art training sent the young artist
careening in the two directions, extremes which formed from a seminal
experience, one which she now sees as universal, in everyone: The role
of the teacher with the formation of the artist. The instructor from
her junior year was all encouragement: She was praised and prolific as
a result. “He made me try everything.”
But, the following year’s instructor was not so positive. “I couldn’t perfectly recreate the barn, the snow and all the shadows. I had failed to acheive his vision of perfection, which was merely copying. It was years before the creative urge could be recovered again.”That renaissance of creativity occurred when she and her husband (since parted) opened a bar/restaurant/dinner theatre.
“In my entrepreneurial gambit, I became the Little Red Hen: I’ve got to do this,” she says, waving her hand at the memories of the prolific need the project had for her special hand. “I was suddenly thrust into everything. One day our set designer had a health setback. Guess who had to design the sets?”She created a fireplace that was formed of shipping foam, so real that the actors wondered how all the stones would be moved for the second act. Naturally, the light foam was easy to manage. Then there was the Ram’s head, followed by a giant tree for Finigan’s Rainbow. “The actors needed a branch in a tree, so this had to be really large and really covered in leafy material.” Her material of choice? The shipping foam.
Creativity with the dinner theatre had her in multiple roles: in the kitchen, back stage and in the ticket booth–she managed, cooked, created and was reborn as an artist. While exhilarating at first, the toil later threatened to consume her. Then one day, her world crumbled. In the mail were notices of bankruptcy, divorce and even a tax lien. It was friends, job, home and business all gone in one unmanageable “pouf.”
A saving grace was tendered by a new love, one whose role was like her first art teacher in high school: Supportive, asking for her experimentation, but mostly requesting she put her feelings into the works that were now solely hers. “I created a lioness of such a pure power, all from painting and collage, that it provided a new lease on what I could do with my lost and frustrated feeling. I now had a place to put those feelings, a way to corral all the anger into something commanding and present, and artistic.” Thus, out of destruction was her creativity born.
“I had learned from reading C.G. Jung that the psychological process required an act, a spontaneous combustion of some sort, so I took to tearing the paper from fine quality photography and museum magazines. “Smithsonian Institute was one of my favorites.” When someone offered her a set of old National Geographics, he had first sliced off the binds, leaving the pages loose for her choosing. “I ignored that pile. It didn’t have the emotional impact that the tearing and the destruction could give me.”
Her self-reflective process became the source for collage work, and she recognized the hallmarks of her progress, moving from rigid and geometric shapes to the more flowing and powerful sculpted figures of owls and eagles, vines and fishes. “Now I can look at collage and know the soul of its maker,” she says.
She joined the Sonoma Collective, a group of collage artists in the early 1990's and has never looked back. “There was a new member whose life was in a pure turmoil like the one I had known. His retirement was sudden, and the shock made him detached, lacking in feeling. His work was characterized by sharply formed corners, geometric and formal. The patterns were too small, I told him. He had been stymied by the point to which he had come in his life. He was so used to conforming (he wore a tie and shirt to the meetings of the artists) that he didn’t know how to get himself out of his own box.”
“I once painted corners on corners too,” she admits. “But Jung says it’s about being stuck in corners, and this one was really stuck!”
The commitment to collage work helped him to spite his own sorrow, the conditions of his life, and since he wasn’t so focused on his life issues, he began to flow with living energy. Now he’s happy, and a central figure in the group, and his output is profuse, and some has been published in the form of cards and other reprints. He has also since changed his wardrobe into that of an artist’s.
Taylor describes her first collage as coming also at a time of transition. “I had allowed myself the time to focus my intensity toward this New Life (as an artist) and I was reborn.”
She describes the intensity as having produced as many as two paintings simultaneously. “One was masculine and the other feminine: it was a torn sheet there and another there, soon it was two works that emerged from the singular effort.” She describes her work as “controlled spontaneity.”
“The images were already created so I didn’t have to fuss with having to draw what I wanted to envision. It didn’t inhibit my creativity,” she asserts. “If I wanted an image of a zebra, I could pull that from the page. Lightening? Got that too. I didn’t need to created the original images myself, so I was freed to place them together in the spontaneous thrust of new work. I would quickly grab a magazine and just yank an image, pulling apart and destroying these once pristine publications: They were destroyed!”
An act of destruction gave new birth to her emerging sense of flow, that dimension of satisfaction which draws from the impersonal and makes it the artist’s own. It fueled yet other paths of creativity left to follow. She had come the full circle from empty to full, and it transformed her life.