When a single white feather floats to the ground, seemingly from out of the heavens, it’s easy to see why some would view it as a gift from above. Feathers have long had spiritual connotations in cultures worldwide – and with their natural palette of dazzling colours and patterns, they’re a perennial source of fascination and inspiration.
British artist George Taylor uses exotic feathers as her signature medium to create intricate artworks that blur the boundaries of installation, painting and sculpture. Inspired by ritual featherwork from the Andes and Hawaii, her interest in this (she admits, rather niche) creative practice was sparked at the age of 11 during a visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, a place she describes as ‘an intoxicating space humming with mysticism’. The particular exhibit that captured her imagination and left a lasting impression was a Hawaiian feather cape dating from 1842, an item of clothing traditionally worn by tribal chiefs as a form of spiritual protection. The cape is a shock of red, black and yellow, made up almost imperceptibly from thousands of tiny feathers. The visit coincided with Taylor moving to a farm in rural Gloucestershire, a part of the country she has lived and worked in ever since.
‘[In my work] I am looking for a conceptual language that would run parallel with my personal experience of the natural world, living and working on the farm.’ Taylor explains, ‘It was during my degree at Bretton Hall, in Yorkshire that I started using feathers in installations. I viewed a couple of pieces from the collector Paul Hughes at this point and I became obsessed with these textile and death shrouds.’
Taylor’s work is characterised by intricate optical designs painstakingly crafted from myriad, individually prepared feathers (all of which, it should be noted, are ethically sourced). After drawing up the design in pencil (sometimes aided by a projector for larger works) and making careful calculations, the feathers then need to be placed in exactly the right position. ‘If there is a correction needed, the feathers have to be scraped off until that point,’ she explains. ‘The prep work takes nearly as long as the sticking.’ As for the meaning behind her art, much like the finished pieces, it’s all far more complex than meets the eye.
Taylor’s inspirations and influences primarily touch on themes of nirvana, sexuality and mortality – what she calls the ‘merry-go-round of love, life, sex and death’.
‘Birds have a natural sexual selection,’ she explains, ‘through evolution they’ve developed feathers of extraordinary colours and shapes, which they display to one another to attract a mate. The urgency to sow the seed; to procreate before death. The quest to allure is an ancient one.’
Intimate Immensity, the title of Taylor’s new solo show, is taken from the 1958 book Poetics of Space by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. This seminal text is a lyrical, philosophical meditation on inhabited spaces, described by Taylor as her ‘bible and go-to book for many years.’ The exhibition is held at sculpture gallery Pangolin London and includes 22 works ranging from 1ft in size to the 7ft artwork The Beast in Me (2017), made from darkly shimmering cockerel and crow feathers. The exhibition also includes new works made entirely from quails’ eggs, inspired by Georges Bataille’s infamous novella Story of the Eye, and the self-portrait piece Submersion, described by Taylor as a ‘defining emblem for both me and my inextricable link with the natural world.’
On the opening of her new exhibition – Taylor’s first in London for a decade – the artist expresses hopes that visitors will ‘feel absorbed by the richness of the feathers’, especially with so many being hung at the same time. ‘I’m really excited to see them all together,’ she adds, ‘fingers crossed that people will too.’
George Taylor: Intimate Immensity runs from 7 March – 14 April 2018 at Pangolin London; pangolinlondon.com