Arts & Culture » Visual Art

A Draftsman, Finally

John Taye's mastery of drawing


John Taye has been a mainstay of the Boise State art department for over 30 years—he teaches sculpture, painting, life drawing and drawing. By all accounts, he has been a good teacher, giving his students a solid foundation in technique, form and composition upon which to build their own aesthetic. In the spring, he will retire from academic life. This exhibit at the Boise State Visual Arts Center, entitled "The Quiet Art: A Drawing Retrospective," commemorates his years of service.

Taye made a smart choice in deciding to focus this retrospective on his drawing. It's the art form in which he is most interesting. Taye is considered first and foremost a sculptor in bronze and wood, and in terms of technique and the prevalence of the nude subject, he is very much the classicist. Taye's work in oil on canvas is conventional and of inconsistent quality. He is not a great colorist, and his impressionistic landscapes often fail to bring sufficient light to outdoor subjects.

In short, Taye is a competent, traditional artist. But the work in "The Quiet Art" (most of which has not been exhibited before) reveals him to be an accomplished draftsman with an appreciation for the expressive possibilities of understatement. Taye comments in the exhibition catalog that "drawing is a quiet contemplative art for me" through which he gives reign to his fascination with "the beauty of form and structure in the figure and in nature." In his drawing, Taye is reticent and restrained. His formal approach is noticeably influenced by the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, American artists Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn, and the Canadian Walter Murch.

The most appealing part of the show is the wall of subdued still lifes in pencil, charcoal and pastel. As Garth Claassen points out in his intelligent catalog essay, Taye embraces the concept of inanimate objects behaving like "mute but expressive players on a stage." Also, the still lifes offer examples of Taye taking a non-classical approach, with asymmetrical compositions and less typical subject matter that indicates a more personal style and vision.

Case in point is the early charcoal work Composition with Razor Blade, in which isolated studio objects anchor the periphery of the composition, two-thirds of which is dominated by an askew plane of white paper, the physical presence of which is emphasized by the placement of the razor blade. The pastel Arrangement in Brown conveys a similar Diebenkorn-esque interplay of abstract planes. Milkweeds, a pencil drawing from 1987, is an unusual, dance-like piece that captures the sublime within a less-than-beautiful subject.

Not all the still lifes work this well. Taye's series entitled "Homage to Morandi" is a rather straightforward study of glass vessels that have only a superficial resemblance to Morandi's oils and drawings. By contrast, Taye's drawings lack the weight and earthiness of Morandi's work, which has an iconographic gravity to it.

Of course, there is a good deal of figurative work and life study in the exhibit, much of it in the form of classroom demonstrations. Of the finished works, Evening Breeze and Days End are the most satisfying, but others seem uninspired. One has to hand it to Taye, he has stuck with what moves him, impervious to the imperatives of post-minimal and conceptual art that dominated the scene when he was in art school, and to contending post-modern persuasions since. He has been content occupying a calm oasis amidst the storm.

"John Taye The Quiet Art: A Drawing Retrospective" exhibit runs through March 15. Boise State Visual Arts Center, Boise State. Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., noon-4 p.m.; closed Sundays. Admission is always free. For more information, visit