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Natural Awakenings Tucson

The Transformational Power of Art: A Glimpse into Visionary Surrealist Artist Janny Taylor

Nov 30, 2022 09:00AM ● By Suzie Agrillo
Janny Taylor is a life coach, an award-winning artist, and the best-selling author of Our Lady of Weight Loss: Miraculous and Motivational Musings from the Patron Saint of Fat Removal. She studied with feminist artist Anita Steckel at The Art Students League of New York, at Parsons School of Design, and Taylor is a graduate of New York University’s life coaching program. An article about her in Oprah’s magazine O distilled her essence, memorializing her as “a kooky kind of genius.”
Taylor grew up in New York, on Long Island, and moved to Manhattan in her early 20s. In 2010, her vocation as a life coach brought her to an Andrew Weil wellness conference in Arizona with her psychotherapist husband. “We both instantly fell in love with Tucson and bought a house that weekend. The cactus, the mountains, the air—Tucson is magic. It’s just so easy to live here,” she emotes.
Twenty-one years ago, Taylor was a yo-yo dieter, 10 pounds down, 20 up, until she was 50 pounds overweight. After she made the “mistake” of standing in front of a full-length mirror while she pulled up her XXL elastic band pants and even they were too tight, she dragged herself into a Weight Watchers meeting.
One day, after weighing in at one of the meetings, she saw the scale register the highest number ever, and she thought, “I’m never going to make it.” Then Our Lady of Weight Loss—the patron saint of permanent fat removal—introduced herself. She advised, “If you say you’re never going to make it, you never will. You’re an artist. Make weight loss an art project and have some fun.”
That’s exactly what she did. Taylor went directly to her studio and started making collages which combined art and weight loss. She made art about food instead of eating it. This was the genesis of her 50-pound weight loss, which she has kept off for 21 years, as well as her two illustrated weight loss books which are “guaranteed to help you slim down while you laugh it up”.
Taylor creates beautiful surreal collages, which are sometimes composed with incongruous imagery. They often juxtapose random objects into works that tell a story and depict aspects of the human condition.
“A painter takes a formless thing and gives it form and makes a language with it. A collage artist takes things that already exist in the world that already have stories, contexts, and uses them in an associative way to create a new reality,” she opines.
Her art has been featured in a multitude of galleries and museums, including MoMA (Museum of Modern Art NYC, 9/11 Photography Exhibit) and the National Catholic Museum (NYC). She has been published in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, and O, The Oprah Magazine, and she has appeared on Good Morning America.
Taylor, along with fellow artists and studio mates, Deborah Gillis, Elizabeth Criger and Rachel Nelson, have been instrumental in establishing the Steinfeld Gallery and Studios as a Tucson destination. “The four of us have been working tirelessly on this unique art venue. I’d love for Tucson residents to know about us and to visit this famed artist warehouse,” shares Taylor. “We have a Saturday Artwalk the first Saturday of the month from 4 to 9 p.m., and on subsequent Saturdays from 12 to 5 p.m.”
There is something special about visiting an art gallery in person, not to mention that it would give us a welcome break from our screens. Whether you’re a collector, or you just want to browse, the Steinfeld Gallery is a magical and memorable place to visit at the historic Warehouse Arts District in downtown Tucson.

In a Q&A with Janny Taylor, she clarifies her creative vision and shares her story of what it’s like to be an artist in the enigmatic world we live in.

What inspires your art?
It’s a mystery. I create a piece, and I’m like, “How did this even happen?” I get a euphoric feeling from the process of creating art. I like collage because it encourages my subconscious to come out. When I’m working in my studio, it’s therapeutic and it keeps me buoyant. Art is an important aspect of who I am as a person.

Who are your biggest influences?
Max Ernst, Hannah Hoch, Diane Arbus, Anita Steckel and Yayoi Kusama.

How is art important to society?
Recently, triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in a hospital on September 16 after having been arrested and reportedly beaten by Iran’s “morality police” for openly defying Iran’s deeply ingrained misogynistic dress laws, Iranian women used art to protest and bring light to this horrendous situation. Art is impactful and powerful. It brings light.

How do you promote yourself as an artist?
I was good at self-promoting my books, but now I prefer to kick back, make art and let people find me. I’m on Facebook, I have a website and Instagram is an amazing vehicle to share art. I am enjoying the process of letting go and allowing the magic to happen. And see, it works! You found me!

What motivates you to create art?
The making of art is primarily about process, a mix of beliefs, aesthetic sensibility, access to and an expenditure of resources. It is a complex and mysterious happening that I do not fully comprehend. But I am aware of it. I can coax it along or get out of its way and let it happen.

What is your favorite time of day to paint?
I’m a morning person. If I can sleep in past 6 a.m., I do the happy dance. I head down to my studio, where the creative vibes in the Steinfeld Warehouse are palpable.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I painted a series of portraits of female artists who committed suicide or were
institutionalized titled “Facing Mental Illness: Long-Suffering Female Artists”. When folks visited my studio and I shared the stories behind the paintings, people began to share some of the intimate details of their lives with me. When something I create evokes personal emotions and they share that with me, I’m really moved. It’s an amazing gift. An honor.

What do you like most about being an artist?
I love getting lost in the work, going deep into the process, getting lost in space and time. It’s the journey, not the destination. When I’m painting a portrait, there’s a moment when it starts to talk to me and come alive. Catching that moment is addictive. Art is an adaptive way to channel energy and feelings, as well as a coping mechanism.

How important are titles to your paintings?
Titles are super important. My art tells a story, and the title needs to reflect that story.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
There’s always more opportunity. If it doesn’t feel right, and you don’t want to do something, don’t do it.

Your book is witty and inspirational for people who want to lose weight. Where can people buy it?
Our Lady of Weight Loss: Miraculous and Motivational Musings from the Patron Saint of Permanent Fat Removal (Penguin publishing) is available on Amazon.

What was the genesis of Collaging My Way Through the Virus?
During the COVID lockdown, from March 2020 until March 2021, I spent the vast majority of my time at home, where I embarked on a daily collage practice. I created a collage a day. Sometimes I authored micro-stories to accompany a collage. I did over 370 collages in my pandemic project, and I’d like to create a compilation of them in a book to chronicle that period.

Tell us about your most recent project.
I was gifted a collection of LIFE magazines. My latest collage series, “Going Back to Yesterday,” was created by cutting, pasting and rearranging images that were carefully extracted from the pages of LIFE magazines circa 1959 and 1940. It is an exploration of the past—a glimpse into our future that suggests an astringent reality.

What is your favorite quote?
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” ~ Franz Kafka

Janny Taylor’s art can be viewed at Steinfeld Gallery & Studios, 101 W. Sixth St., in Tucson. Connect at [email protected], or follow @JannyTaylorCreates on Instagram.

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. Connect at [email protected].