Three adolescents cruise the desert, two holding skateboards while another steers a bike. It’s a familiar scene rendered in an unexpected way by Brooklyn-based artist Alison Elizabeth Taylor. Rather than loosely sketched watercolor or street-inspired airbrush, Taylor uses marquetry, or wood inlay, a meticulous process typically used for decorative purposes and popular during the Renaissance.
A time-consuming technique, Taylor’s marquetry involves cutting and shaping small bits of wood, arranging them precisely, and securing them with resin and a vacuum press. Taylor uses wood veneer as others might use paint, expertly choosing each piece so that the color and grain lend depth and form.
For a 2008 exhibition at James Cohan Gallery in New York City, she constructed a room-sized environment entirely from carefully fitted pieces cut from more than 200 different types of wood.
This ambitious project had a daunting wow factor, yet the individual pictures resonate like dreams. In 29 Palms, the teens and the surrounding landscape are depicted in a seemingly endless array of browns, their forms defined by alternately striated and wave-like patterns of wood grain.
Taylor’s knack for composing is cinematic, as if black-and-white movies were updated and remade with puzzle pieces. The bikini-clad ladies in Swimming Pool seem caught in the middle of action; one hand draped around a martini glass could have leapt from the screen of any number of movies. In Era of Argus, a tattooed man kneels to feed a peacock, its tail feathered with glistening browns. A pair of hands reaches eerily from a sea of dark wood, grain swirling like water, in Hands.
Pairing an age-old practice or material with newfangled ideas has become de rigueur for many young artists, and Taylor does it with elegant flair and precise workmanship. Through the monochromatic lens of a wooden palette, she expresses loose narratives that often take on mythological dimensions.
More Wood Work: jamescohan.com/artists/alison-elizabeth-taylor