By Melanie Pinto 08/04/20 Photography by Liz Chornenki & The Moniker, Woodpunk
When you imagine an artist, what visions comes to mind? Do you see a moody, paint spattered bohemian smoking cigarettes late into the night? Perhaps a tightly wound perfectionist constantly re-positioning objects to capture the idyllic light? Every imagined artist stereotype is about to be crushed by Toronto artist and activist H. Jordyn Taylor.
Jordyn's intricate illustrative work immediately draws art lovers into her journey, but it's the strength and courage that fuels her activist work, on behalf of the disabled and chronically ill, that inspires awe. After getting her start showing her work in LGBT youth art shows, Jordyn studied drawing and painting at the Academy of Art Canada in 2010. While continuing to refine her skills as an artist, Jordyn got involved in the disability arts community and the Cripping the Arts movement beginning in 2015. Since then, she has been "focusing on illustrative work that explores themes of mental and physical illness, challenging societal notions of disability and bodily integrity." This is Jordyn's story...
The Freedom Factory has had the pleasure of working with hundreds of talented artists offering styles and mediums for every taste, yet some creatives stand out. Like it was yesterday, I recall seeing H. Jordyn Taylor's artwork in the gallery for the first time for a group exhibition in 2017. "After The Storm" , a 16" x 20" graphite on bristol depicted the delicate profile of a womxn balancing a sailing ship on her forehead. My mind was instantly set free to explore this piece and it's remains one of my favourites to date. Her ability to lay out a story visually is resounding. While her voice is heard through the exhibited work, her visits to the gallery continue to be a special occasion. A wide eyed beauty, with an infectious smile moves through the space fully engaged in the creative energy. Her excitement to not only share her work, but to enjoy and interact with the artist expression of her peers is exciting and inspirational.
Jordyn lives in Toronto, as does her partner, who shares both a talent and passion for creating art, and the physical disabilities that haveleadthem to take action on the societal limitations facing many in our community. Created from her home studio, Jordyn's work "generally focuses on themes relating to disability and bodily integrity. (She) often incorporates imagery associated with a metaphor commonly used in the disability/chronically ill community known as "spoon theory."
Spoon theory provides a way to conceptualize the impact of fatigue, ego depletion, and related factors in the lives of disabled and chronically ill people. The metaphor involves beginning each day with a certain number of spoons, representing energy, that are then "spent" on various activities and situations. A disabled or chronically ill person may start each day with a fewer number of spoons than a non-disabled person, and tasks may also "cost" more spoons in this community than they otherwise would.
Knowing that society inherently politicizes the bodies of people with disabilities, Jordyn uses her work to confront and challenge people's misconceptions about what it means to have a disabled body. She is interested in encouraging conversations around societal beliefs and assumptions about disability, autonomy, and agency, especially as they relate to our collective lived experiences."
We are eager to share Jordyn's responses to the questions we posed:
Why Do You Create Art I love how rendering a drawing from start to finish can be both meditative and maddening at times. I get bored really, really easily, and nothing can hold my attention like creating a piece of artwork can. I appreciate how art can give you a voice and the ability to express yourself. I also love telling stories! I remember taking a trip to the AGO with my family when I was around 7 or 8. My mom thought I'd love it because I was artsy and loved to draw, but I couldn't even feign interest, I was so bored. So my mom, in an attempt to engage me a little, pointed at a painting and began telling me this elaborate story about these two women, and someone threatening to cut a child in half (the painting was Judgment of Solomon). At some point soon after that, I got to thinking about how wild it is that you can tell an entire story using various imagery and symbolism in one single piece of art. I love telling stories through my art. I'll often add subtle details for people to find. I like that artwork can be a bit like trying to crack a code. Also, I just get a lot enjoyment out of it. What Are Your Sources of Inspiration Music has always been my main source of inspiration. Sometimes I'll seek out a song to help me tell a story, but most of the time it comes out of nowhere. When I find a song that evokes an intense emotional response, I use imagery from the lyrics within the drawing and try to evoke a similar emotion as the song that inspired it. I do this especially if I find the song particularly relatable. Lately I have noticed a shift in my process, however. I don't know if it's because my life is now much more stable these days or because the state of the world is becoming increasingly unstable, but most of what I have on the go now is inspired by what I've been seeing in the news the last few months. I think like many artists, I've shifted to documenting what is going on in the world. What Are Your Challenges I find it challenging to get myself out there as an artist. It doesn't help that I have terrible social anxiety, especially when it comes to posting things online. There's also the issue that keeps coming up of accessibility. I feel so incredibly grateful and have so much love in my heart for the Freedom Factory as their support has changed my life. The gallery is so welcoming. Unfortunately, not a lot of galleries and event spaces here in Toronto are as welcoming because they just not accessible. As a wheelchair user, that has been quite a challenge. Earlier this week, I went around the block with my sister to get some fresh air. We're still pretty new to the area so I was hugely surprised when I looked in a gallery window and saw this large scale painting by one of my favourite Toronto artists just staring back at me. I was so over the moon and made my sister take photos of me next to it. My next thought was, "Oh no, there's no way this show will still be up when mandatory closures are lifted." Then my second thought was that maybe when things get back to normal, I should introduce myself and see if they might be interested in showing my work. How convenient would it be to show at a gallery 350 m from my house where I have people around who could help me transport my work, and I could easily make it to art shows and be inspired by other artists on the regular. Of course, I looked over and realized there are stairs going down into the space. Not many but enough that a ramp would be needed. This wasn't the first time I've experienced this, and it won't be the last, but it's certainly my biggest challenge as it's something I have absolutely no control over. There are so many talented artists with disabilities, not to mention all the patrons. These galleries are isolating an entire demographic, declining an entire group of people the opportunity to see works of art. Seeing a piece of art in person is not the same as seeing a photo or scan online. Everyone deserves to be inspired.
What are your biggest lessons that you have learned through creating art I have this vivid memory of my art instructor telling me at one point, "You will never be completely satisfied with your work; just get to the point where you can live with the mistakes." That's something I'm constantly telling myself when I'm working on the last stages of a drawing, and over the years, I find myself applying it to other aspect of my life. I have a very obsessive nature: I overthink everything. I'm very neurotic. I think having to learn to set limits on how much time is acceptable to obsess over something before I have to just learn to live with it or move on has been very good for me.
What do you want people to know about your art I'm aware that my artwork has a somewhat macabre feel to it, some pieces more than others, and I sometimes wonder if people think of it's just as an aesthetics choice or as a gimmick, a shtick. I'm not only drawn to the aesthetics of it: I'm also endlessly fascinated by human anatomy and what it's capable of from the perspective of a disabled person. My anatomical pieces are always telling the story of a disabled body. When people think of the body, people generally think about what they learned in science class, but my body is nothing like that. I have three kidneys and two uteruses. My left foot was once in the shape of a lobster claw: that's literally what the condition is called. They don't have very eloquent names for these things. I believe we're prone to think that if the body is not exactly what is shown in text books then it's deemed flawed when it's really more of a remix. I will sometimes include grim elements because I contemplate death and dying on the regular. I consider myself to be part of the death positive movement and incorporate those themes in my art as a way of getting comfortable with death and dying. My artwork can come off as dark and spooky, but it's for important reasons. What do you want people to know about you I've wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember l, but it wasn't until my high school art teacher took me aside and told me that if I actually applied myself I could pursue a career in the arts, that I began to really chase the dream. In 12th grade I did a semester of co-op at the AGO working with the youth council where I was fortunate enough to have artist, Syrus Marcus Ware as my supervisor. Art school was put on hold because of health issues but I still continued to make art and show at any gallery that would take me. Including inaccessible ones, like This Ain't the Rosedale Library where my mom would have to carry the piece up a flight of stairs and her and my step mom would go to the show in my stead. All this is to say I'm very committed to what I do. This has been something I've worked towards for a very long time. Despite my lack of activity on social media, which I hope to change eventually, I'm continuing to make things. Starting projects before finishing others. I feel as though I'm in a place where my 16 old self wanted so badly to be and it's a good feeling. What help do you need right now There is a lot that I don't know when it comes to dealing with the business aspects of art. I think because of the issues regarding accessibility and gallery space, the best thing for me would be to try and build an online presence, but I have no idea what I'm doing. I have been given some advice and made a plan for myself with the help of a friend who has been very successful using social media to boost her business. I'm hoping to work on it during this time of isolation, but honestly, I just don't know the first thing about the business aspect of art. I feel like I might benefit from learning more about social media strategies, and by galleries thinking more about accessibility. Is there a message in your work There is a common thread that runs through most of what I do. The stories I tell are always about something to do with the human experience. Often it comes from a place of personal experience but not always.
I think whatever the subject matter is, it's usually a reflection of change. Those moments in life where suddenly you're not the same person you once knew yourself to be. Whether that's realizing your body is suddenly your enemy, or you've made it through something you never thought you would and are now in a better place, or you're grieving the loss of someone either through death, a breakup, or just from life moving you in different directions.
The message in my work is about resilience. You'd be surprised what people are capable of living through and accepting as the new normal.
We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Jordyn for sharing her story so eloquently, creating such meaningful artwork and for having the courage to be a voice for others who may not feel heard. It's important to bring attention to the physical and mental barriers that our friends and neighbours face daily and take action. We encourage all to reach out to Jordyn via instagram @hjoryntaylor to say hello and share her message with others. It's imperative to support the work of local artists so that they may continue to have the means to create. Jordyn's wall art, jewellery, clothing and custom commissions are available for purchase.
Let's add our voice and energy to this beautiful warrior as slashes the "dis" from her "abilities"!