Toronto illustrator draws a parallel with the 1930s

Toronto artist Gary Taxali’s “The Up-N-Down” exhibit, held throughout October at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, is a combination of 1930s-style comics and a vintage mish-mash of advertising and cartoons.

He believes that something is lacking in the way society communicates. His ‘30s-style comic illustration aims at bringing back an innocent way of looking at things.

“I definitely don’t think that creativity has been sucked out of this era,” Taxali said. “There are some amazing things going on, (but) I don’t know how much help the Internet provides with that, TV certainly doesn’t. From a productivity standpoint you can’t really enjoy art with 72 pixels-per-inch the same way you can by travelling, going into book stores, galleries and art shows, meeting people and seeing what different people are doing.”

One could say that his art is a combination of Dr. Seuss and ‘30s cartoon icons, all of which comment on the way today’s technology has made people too serious. He sees things in an innocent way and wants to re-introduce the notion that “the precious little things in life are where true joy lies.”

“I am in awe of that era,” he explained, “and of the things that people did, like the use of typography, the use of animation and the skills of the artists and designers. I think that it’s something that I just aesthetically like and it has that leaning, but it is not a conscious thing where I am trying to take something that looks like it was done a long time ago. It is just the way that I draw, paint and think.”

Taxali remains true to his form as is evident in the care he takes in putting a sensitive line in the figure of a woman, juxtaposed against a colourful, cartoonish backdrop.

Born 75 years too late

He has always gravitated towards ‘30s influences and even feels that he was born 75 years too late. Although people were going through the Great Depression in the 1930s, technological advances saw the birth of radio and the introduction of mass comic book sales. The ’30s sprouted iconic images like Betty Boop, Dick Tracy, Flip the Frog, Tom and Jerry and the Looney Tunes. The gloomy conditions surrounding the ’30s developed a need for things that were aesthetically pleasing and visually imaginative.

“Society was humbled by the Great Depression,” Taxali says.“And I think the best images and design, in fact, almost anything creative, surface from times of tension and despair.”

Rosemary Donegan, Assistant Dean of liberal studies and an art historian says that it is not despair exactly, but more so a cultural shift and change that generates the most creative images.

“There has always been a type of humour,” Donegan says. “A kind of edge that has humour in it. What has happened in the last while is that there is a place for this kind of imagery to be taken seriously; to be seen as not just illustration, but as art, social commentary. There is more of a space for this kind of medium to be dealt with on a more interesting level that I find fascinating.”

On technology, Donegan also believes that today’s advances have brought with them some negative consequences, some of which are physical, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and obesity. Others involve the ways in which society communicates which one another.

‘It’s quite different standing up in a crowd’

Blogging alone has created an open forum for people to express their views, but for few people to have to stand by them.

“It is quite different than standing up in a crowd and saying something provocative, and having to take some responsibility for it,” she said.

“Our culture is shifting certain defined ideas of what is art, what is design, what are comics? They have changed and opened up. He (Taxali) is using an illustration style and vocabulary from the ‘30s in a totally new way, and that is what is interesting about him. He takes these styles and re-invents them and re-discovers them in a whole new way so that they are very contemporary for now. They (his images) don’t look dated at all.”

York University Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of Canadian Art and Curatorial Studies, Anna Hudson, has a slightly different idea of what ‘30s art represents, but agrees that the economically-depressed era was also a powerfully inspiring one.

“There was nothing simple about the images produced during the 1930s,” Hudson argues. “What was seemingly ‘simple’ however was the idea that a collective existed and the artist could speak for humanity. What is evident today is a weariness of conflict and a desire for communication and collaboration.”

Despite technological developments and the accessibility of information, people are turning less and less to individual contact and more towards emotionless machines. Contemporary society, although not mired in a great depression, has let technology override human interaction and has caused a need for human contact, some artists believe.

“There is a synchronicity between the 1930s and today,” Hudson said. “I would say it has to do with our current awareness of community and the need to act together for a better world. We have become wary. We’re trying to communicate with one another but we, as a society and world, speak multiple languages. Our anxiety is one of faltering communication.”

Although technology has made life easier for people and has made some very interesting advancements, there is something wrong, we have become too serious, Taxali believes.