Postcards to the Future

Cape Cod Life  /  Annual Life 2021 /

Writer: Elizabeth Shaw

Artist Taylor Fox uses his unique style to capture the magic of living on Cape Cod, or just living in general.

Cottage (2012), 60×80

In his book “The Art Spirit”, American artist Robert Henri states, “If you want to be a history painter, let your history be of your own time, of what you can get to know personally-of manners and customs within your own experience.” For Orleans-based painter Taylor Fox, Henri’s sentiment rings true when creating his own masterpieces. “I think I choose to make paintings that say by living here and drinking and swimming in the water, the past greets the here and now and my paintings become another record for the future,” he explains. When it comes to documenting the future, Fox tends to focus on the fun. “I want people to look at my work and know I had fun making it.”

All Together Now (2019), 52×48

Part of that fun is capturing the vivid experience of living on the Cape year round. A Cape Cod native, Fox grew up surrounded by the natural beauty of the Cape, and an assignment from an elementary school teacher began an exploration of that beauty through sketches. Though it wasn’t until he left for Los Angeles to attend Pitzer College, one of The Claremont Colleges, that he considered art seriously. “I met some amazing people, some of whom were my art professors who really inspired me. Art is my way of connecting. I fell back on what I’m good at, which is making art, and taking ideas that I find around me, and turning them into paintings,” he says of his time in LA. But sometimes, your heart is drawn back home. Fox returned to the Cape to regroup, and took a watercolor class at Cape Cod Community College, among other classes, and rekindled his love of painting. After graduating, Fox spent time creating which resulted in representation by Orleans’ respected Tree’s Place Gallery. Sojourns to New York City, specifically exploration of neighborhoods like Chelsea and Brooklyn, augmented his path of learning and inspiration. A thousand pictures and many paintings later, Fox made his way back to the Cape, where he has stayed ever since. “I live on Cape Cod for a reason. I grew up here, there’s something in the air, or the memories I have, or the connection to place, that inspires me,” he says. “This past fall, and as we moved into winter, I went outside for the first time in a long time and just painted every day for three months. I did these little paintings with a palette knife and I was drawn to be outside, representing where I grew up, and the place in general.” 

Just the Wind Flying Beach Towel (2020), 48×54

Like many artists before him have experienced, the Cape offers an unseen, sometimes unexplainable energy that draws creative individuals of all specialties, but especially painters. “We have the oldest art colony in America, Provincetown, with the an influx from the city during the summer. I really think that Cape Cod is a great place because of the seasons and the seasonal influence of other people. The downturn in the winter creates a great opportunity to really hunker down and make what you want to make,” he explains. “It’s a perfect place to make art for me. There’s little distraction when you want to get to the studio and make your ideas happen. There’s obviously a beauty and a rich history; it’s one of the oldest communities in America, so it’s not shy on history. The architecture here is fun; there’s the injection of modernism that came in and there’s also the colonial nest that still exists. There’s the combination of all those different fusions going on. And it’s ripe for the picking.”

Liam’s Above and Below (2016), 24×36

Anyone who views Fox’s work is immediately drawn in by the whimsical attitude, yet nostalgic comfort of his scenes. One of his more overtly Cape Cod pieces, “Just the Wind (Flying Beach Towel),” perfectly encapsulates Fox’s art. “Flying beach towel is a good example of how I contextualize an image into Cape Cod life in a sense. It adds magical realism to a standard beach scene, elevating something in a way that brings it to a different place. A beach scene can also be magical because the beach is magical,” he explains. Another aspect of Fox’s work in creating a blueprint for the future is playing with concepts already familiar with audiences and bringing them into our current consciousness. “I enjoy taking an idea from the past and remaking it. Not revisiting it, but reaching into that well and picking out an idea that people know and reinterpreting it in my own personal way, representing it how I can. That allows for a footing for people to enter the painting because it’s based in the past and has a context, but now it’s in the present.” Fox’s next body of work, which he is currently working on in his studio, plays on this idea. He is working on paintings of Noah’s Ark, with the animals loading, unloading and mingling around the Ark at Nauset Beach. The inspiration comes from a previous piece Fox did, “All Together Now”, which depicts a group of animals crossing the street, inspired by the age-old question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” When the painting was displayed for the public, Fox was asked if it was in fact Noah’s Ark. So Fox figured, if everyone’s already asking, why not actually paint Noah’s Ark? But of course, Fox will add his personal flair to the venerable tale. “Everyone knows the story, but its context is new,” he says of the work in progress.

Manmade Friendship (2005), 12×12

While his narratives imbue a sense of fun and whimsy, Fox’s true love lies in figures. “One of my favorite things to do, if not my favorite, is life painting. There’s an energy to the person and the color, which you don’t get from a photograph. It’s my favorite thing to do because it’s the best way to make an image; the light is the best.” Fox hones his figure skills every week at renowned artist Paul Schulenburg’s Eastham studio, among a group of artists young and old who now meet over Zoom to share their love of painting. “Figure is my favorite. I do love still life, and painting the landscape was a really good study; I learned a lot this fall and winter doing that. And while I tend to use photography for narrative works, I practice by painting from life, to get the color for that narrative and make it believable. That’s the intent. You can have an idea, but to get the imagery necessary to render that idea and make it alive, you can’t always paint it from life. Sometimes I feel more like an illustrator of ideas.” That grounded, approachable sense of reality achieved through his study of life and figures is what makes Fox’s narrative pieces the perfect encapsulation of life on Cape Cod, romanticizing the natural beauty of the area. 

If there was ever a place that truly combined the past with the here and now, it would be Cape Cod. And if there was ever an artist who could capture that magic for the future so eloquently, with a sense of joy and adventure, it would be Taylor Fox.

Nonnies (2008), 24×36

Today, you can find Fox’s work in person at Orleans Modern Art and Adorn in East Orleans, online at taylorfoxart.com or on Instagram at @taylorfoxart and @postcardsfromcapecod. And check back with capecodlife.com to see Fox’s completed Noah’s Ark paintings. 

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth Shaw is a former assistant editor, photographer & videographer for Cape Cod Life Publications. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Elizabeth spent many summers on the Cape, before she and her family moved down full time in 2016. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island as a double major in Writing & Rhetoric and Film Media, and started at Cape Cod Life the following fall. In her free time, she takes as many pictures of her dog, Watson, as possible, in between beach trips.