The softly spoken and exquisitely beautiful Tiffani Taylor is excited that her eponymous Gallery is celebrating 11 years this weekend.
Situated in the heart of an historic district often known for rapid retail turnover, and on the heels of a two-year global pandemic, this is quite an accomplishment. But not surprising. Taylor’s gentle nature belies what she calls the “fire in my belly” – the drive and ambition to manifest and attain success as an artist.
“I was six years old in Ogden, Utah, when I told my grandparents and my mom that I was going to grow up and become an artist and live in France,” Taylor tells me. Since that early age, she immersed herself in art and art history, applying for scholarships and entering competitions.
“I think as artists we need omens and affirmations along our journey, and I received those even in junior high and high school from teachers, family, friends and from judges. I was the youngest person to win first place in the Western Art Guild competition. At 16, I saw a poster for SCAD at my school and just knew I’d attend.” She subsequently received the SCAD Presidential, Portfolio and Academic Scholarships and came to Savannah in 1988.
Reflecting on her journey, she Taylor says, “Twenty years ago I was graduating Valedictorian of SCAD, I’d just bought my first car, I’d started my LLC, and a year later was able to purchase my first home.” Most local art lovers are familiar with the story of how Andre Leon Talley, (recently deceased, but at that time the editor-at-large of Vogue and a SCAD Board Trustee) heard her Valedictorian speech, came to her show that night, and subsequently gifted her art to Oprah and Diane von Furstenberg.
What many don’t know, however, is that prior to that success, “I’d lived on $2 a day as a student and worked numerous jobs all through college.” Taylor goes on, “One of my first jobs was at Midnight Star Pottery. I painted a Mother’s Day gift for my mom and the owner invited me to paint all the display pottery for the window. So, when I worked there, I’d put out my portfolio of murals that I’d painted the summer before when I was 17 and I had little business cards printed. I painted murals, pottery, watercolor, and mixed media, never turning down an opportunity or a commission. And that’s how I got my first patrons and built my business from there.”
Now with a Masters of Painting and a Masters of Art History from her alma mater, Taylor is heavily involved in encouraging her fellow alumni. “I was a pioneer of President Wallace’s SCAD Alumni Atelier grant program in 2015 where I had a gallery in France for the summer. I’m incredibly grateful for that. How many universities reach out to their alumni, give them honorariums, art supplies, travel, accommodation, and a space in France to share your work with the world?”
For Taylor, that opportunity led to famed fashion designer Pierre Cardin becoming a patron, and to the director of the prestigious ICART School of Arts in Paris asking her to teach a course on art and marketing.
Today, true to the goals she laid out as a six-year-old, Taylor splits her time between France, Savannah, and Wyoming where her family lives. At one time, she tells me, she had an apartment in France but gave it up to come back to SCAD to earn an MFA because, “I knew I wanted to be a professor.” She feels teaching is her ultimate calling and aspires to teach “the business of art.”
“As an artist, it’s as important to have business skills as it is to spend time in your studio,” Taylor asserts. “I love teaching students of every demographic and every age the pieces they need to put together to make that patchwork quilt that composes a beautiful business… How to create streams of revenue with your art…Knowing the Copyright Act of 1976…Knowing that you can license an image and create products…I want every artist to know these things.”
She says all this, surrounded by not only her stunning paintings and pottery pieces, but also by an array of ‘Lifestyle Collection’ items such as phone cases, pillows, cutting boards, ornaments, puzzles and more - all created with her copyrighted images of poppies, the marsh, birds, and Paris flower markets. (I confess to having purchased a baby onesie and beanie painted with her signature poppies.)
“As a person who is known for her poppies, I think it is important to note that I am not the first to paint them!” she tells me. “My inspiration is the childhood fire in my belly to achieve my purpose. I would stare at the poppies in my mother’s back yard and was surrounded by fields of them on the way to my grandparent’s Wyoming property each summer. I also experienced them in Italy and France of course, but my favorite poppies will always be those from my memory.”
Taylor is also known for incorporating sheet music and stream-of-consciousness poetry and affirmations in her softly hued, feminine paintings that are often highlighted with flecks of goldleaf. As children and teenagers, her grandmother and her sisters sang at county fairs, and Taylor grew up listening to her sing and to her mother playing piano.
“My use of music stems from a dream I had in college when I was very homesick,” she says. “I dreamt about my grandmother playing the piano and I was in the Wyoming landscape where we would camp every summer. The music was filtering through the aspen trees. I’ve journaled since I was in 5th grade, and I could see my journals filtering through too. That dream has guided my work since my first quarter at SCAD.”
Despite her early financial struggles, Taylor says she never felt ‘less than.’ Even during college, “I just wanted everyone to have the same amazing sense of fulfilling one’s purpose that I was feeling. As a junior, I had the vision to help others. I was walking down Drayton Street thinking about how grateful I was for the Presidential Scholarship and thought, ‘One day I’m going to have a fund to help other artists so they can feel this joy.’”
Today, true to her vision, recipients of the annual Tiffani Taylor Endowed Painting Scholarship receive almost $2000 for art supplies for their senior showcase.
But back to the celebration! Taylor hopes the community will join her this Saturday, June 11, for champagne and macarons to mark her gallery’s 11th year. Located on Whitaker Street, it’s a beautiful, light filled, joyful space that also displays prints by Tamara Garvey and Morgan Adler, and original works by her good friends Sally Mayer Seidel and Melissa Schneider.
“I have a home studio where I paint, but originally I painted at the gallery. The inspiration came from the little galleries I visited in Florence, Italy, and seeing the painters in their smocks. And that inspiration was coupled with the Rothko Chapel, one of my favorite sacred spaces. I hope we invoke that same spirit. “
The Tiffani Taylor Gallery, 11 Whitaker Street, Savannah, marks its 11th year on Saturday, June 11 with a champagne and macaron celebration between 5 and 6 pm. See Taylor’s work at TiffaniTaylor.com or at Instagram @tiffanitaylorsav