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Heavy metal


August 10, 2012

Among Milwaukee sculptor Richard Taylor’s commissions is "A Beam of Sun to Shake the Sky," the pair of bright red pieces on display on the Wells Street side of Milwaukee’s Central Library.

It’s best to watch your step in Richard Taylor’s Riverwest studio, where precisely cut pieces of aluminum and steel are resting on the floor, waiting to be brought to life. Taylor’s brilliantly painted sculptures punctuate spaces from Hardy Ivy Park in Atlanta to City Park in Beaverton, Ore., to Gen. Mitchell International Airport.

Trained in painting and drawing, Taylor says he was inspired to try sculpture during a graduate art history class at UW-Milwaukee. Professor Jeffrey Hayes exposed him to the colorful, abstract work of sculptor George Sugarman and, says Taylor, "it was a real ‘light-bulb’ moment."

While in grad school, Taylor was hired as a part-time artist-in-residence by Quad/Graphics founder, the late Harry Quadracci. "Harry had this egalitarian notion," Taylor says. "He wanted everyone in the plant to be inspired by visual art."

In the Quad/Graphics press room, Taylor drew a mural on the wall and invited everyone in the shop to help complete it, like a huge paint-by-number piece. At the plant, he learned how to use computers in design, and the workers in the metal fabricating shop taught him how to weld. "There’s something meditative about welding," Taylor says, because of the exacting nature of the task. "You put creativity aside and there’s this element of craft that’s very satisfying."

Today, Taylor uses the techniques he learned at the plant to work in two directions — site-specific pieces that are typically commissioned and personal, and more expressive works that are sent to the Tory Folliard Gallery in the Third Ward and galleries across the country.

Taylor often has to bid on public projects, submitting sketches in what amounts to an artists’ competition. That’s how he was commissioned to create "A Beam of Sun to Shake the Sky," the pair of bright red pieces on display on the Wells Street side of Milwaukee’s Central Library. "There was a national competition, so I felt honored to win," he says.

One of Taylor’s biggest challenges was his "Singing Sky" aluminum sculpture for the city of Beaverton, Ore. The piece was taller than his studio, so he had to lay it on the floor to work on it. That was nothing, however, compared to the challenge of delivering the 16-foot-high sculpture.

"I’m lucky that my wife, Lynn, likes to drive trucks," Taylor says. They rented the largest truck they could find and maneuvered it, gingerly, across the Rockies.

Taylor’s more intimate wall sculptures and indoor standing pieces are representations of personal memories, others pay homage to his favorite poets and writers. Music factors into the process as well. He plays the saxophone, and always works to the sounds of jazz, baroque and classical music. Elements of syncopation and rhythm turn up in his compositions. But, he says, "I want people to bring their own thoughts and experiences to the work."

Where to view:

Richard Taylor’s work is featured in a two-man show with Rodger Bechtold at the Paine Art Center, Oshkosh, through May 20. It can also be viewed at


This story ran in the May 2012 issue of: