Press The Fashion: Q & A with Gary Taxali

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Q & A with Gary Taxali – Press The Fashion Interview


Tell us a little about you and your background:

I am an artist, designer, professor and love creating. I was born in India in a city called Chandigarh but immigrated to Canada when I was still a baby. I grew up in Toronto all my life and have been drawing my entire life ever since I could first pick up a pencil. My artwork can be seen all over the homes I grew up in, the walls, desk, chairs, etc. Anything was a surface.

My mother encouraged me to draw when I was a small child and I enjoyed making her laugh with my silly pictures. My father knew how to draw and paint, and would give me lessons. He eventually enrolled me summer painting classes at local community centres. He didn’t do this as a profession.   It was a hobby for him.   He painted a lot and we have some of his paintings. I would often see him paint after work and get fascinated. I started my career as an illustrator and now have moved into fine art with gallery exhibitions.   I eventually went to pursue my post secondary education at the Ontario College of Art. I enrolled into the Illustration program and that’s what I started out doing after completed my 4 years of study.

I lived in NYC during the early part of my career and began working professionally first as an illustrator before I started working as a fine artist – New York is what really shaped me as an artist and not just an illustrator. Soon, I met these East Village artists who had a very Warhol-like factory scene where they intertwined art, music and excessive parties. They inspired me to create personal art in addition to reigniting my love of screen printing.  One individual was Thom Corn who worked with Keith Haring and Basquiat. He curated a lot of gallery shows and was an artist himself. When I first met Thom, he was struck by my work and immediately took me in under his wing. Thom invited me to show in my first group exhibition as an artist. It was in New York and called “New York Tension”.

After I moved back to Toronto, I began connecting with LA galleries that exhibited my art. I was attracted to the low brow, pop art scene burgeoning out there. I received immediate attention from a gallery called La Luz de Jesus and soon after, had my first solo show in 2001. This impacted my illustration as my commercial work projects became conceptually and aesthetically closer to each other.  I have also exhibited at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, The Contemporary Art Museum of Rome, Antonio Colombo (Milan, Italy), the Jonathan LeVine Gallery (New York) and Lazarides/The Outsiders (London, UK). My art can now be described as reminiscent of depression era advertising, typography and packaging in the realm of pop art.

This has resulted in all kinds of interesting projects and opportunities for me as an artist such as working for clients like the Rolling Stone, Esquire, Newsweek, Macleans, The Gap, SONY, getting a 2009 Grammy nomination for an album cover art I did with Aimee Mann, doing Gift Set coins in 2012 with the Royal Canadian Mint, Converse, GQ, Warner Brothers, Playboy, New York Times, Gap Inc.,/Old Navy, Time, Nintendo, The Wall Street Journal and others. My current Toronto project Is my artist designed pocket squares launching for the third year at Harry Rosen. I am also a tenured professor at my alma mater, OCAD University. These are exciting times to be an artist and I am so lucky to enjoying and thriving in this career path.


I’m constantly working on a gallery show and illustration assignments.  There is never a time when I’m not working on either one or the other but I am focusing more on my fine art career these days.  I always have a show coming up, which has made my art interesting for art directors and designers because I’m always doing something new.  When you’re creating art for yourself, that’s the time when you can truly experiment, whereas you can’t do that so readily when you’re doing commercial illustrations all the time.


It’s amazing how people think there are static rules that exist in the arts.  But there are so many instances where you can bend, break and redefine what the rules are.  Artists and designers do that all the time and it’s wonderful to see.  When I was an emerging artist, I was that I couldn’t do that sort of thing.  Not only have I done it, but it’s worked out rather well for me.  As I said, it’s something that’s helped both my careers.


In my career, I’ve also been asked to visit numerous art organizations and institutions over the years around the world.  That’s taken me to Europe several times, and in the last few years, Asia.  I’ve spoken in Hong Kong and in India.  One thing I’ve learned is that the students are the same no matter where you go in the world.  It’s really nice to have that experience of meeting other artists and designers from different cultures and having that shared connection as artists.


When did art become your passion and when did it become a full-time gig?

It’s been my passion my whole life but it didn’t really resonate as a full time career until I decided to study it full time after high school. Then, things became serious as a means of pursuing it as a full-time gig. It was an easy decision for me insofar as a passion, but in terms of the career possibilities, it didn’t even cross my mind at the time. I just knew I wanted to draw pictures and nothing could stop me. I remember when I was studying at The Ontario College of Art (OCA) which is what it was called at the time before it changed its name to OCAD University to do an illustration for Saturday Night Magazine – the funny thing was I was actually doing an actual illustration commission for Saturday Night Magazine at the time. I started working for magazines and agencies while I was still a student.

Why is it your passion, or why do you think it is your passion?

Sometimes I think passion is embedded in our DNA. I meet other like-minded artists whom I share many traits with, and so I wonder if there is a coding that occurs from birth. The things we like and gravitate towards are personal byproducts of that passion, but I think the genetic makeup to become an artist (or at least want to make it forever and obsessively) is set in stone from the beginning.


Who is your target audience?

Everyone of all ages, I hope. I’d like my work to surpass language boundaries, too. I’m getting invited more and more to exhibit and lecture in other countries, so I think that it’s working.

Is this what you had always wanted to have for a career?

I would say so, yes. How fun! Sometimes I think when I draw that my 4 year old self would be excited to know that I turned a passion into an occupation.

Was it planned or did you fall into it?

A combination of both, really. I planned on becoming an artist somewhere and somehow, but I didn’t know the logistics of how one would do that. Art school gave me a basis for learning that, and the rest was being open to the paths that came my way in life. A lot of it is taking a risk but one needs to work very hard for those risks to work I’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours honing my craft and style. As Picasso said when asked how long a painting took him to complete, “A day and a lifetime.”

The art/visual art world is a competitive business. How do you feel you stand out?

I think people pick up on the honesty in my work. Everything I love and what I want to say is in my art. It’s all a self portrait, really. The decisions I make when it comes to my artworks are even out of my hands for much of the creative process is spontaneous. The art world is truly competitive but I combat that my just being productive. I’m always working on a body of work so that keeps me focused on what’s important. It’s easy to get sucked up into the scariness (and often pettiness) of the art world, but that’s something that I keep outside my mind and studio.

If you had to pick one word that you want a client to associate with your work what would it be?


Tell us a little about the pocket squares, and how did that collaboration/idea happen?

Every time I try something interesting and new, I realize it’s a whole new avenue of creating artwork that I had never thought about before.  It’s an interesting challenge.  With the pocket squares, I’ve never considered things like, colours and patterns that someone would wear, I just see it as my artwork, like something from a book or magazine page, or a gallery wall.  As my sister describes it, fashion is wearable art.  A lot of people actually framed the pocket squares and put them on their walls.


The pocket squares was not my first foray into fashion, I’ve also done cufflinks.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with the internationally renowned New York based jewelry company Hobbs and Kent. They are known for their luxury sterling silver cufflinks.  I created a line of limited edition cufflinks for their artist series called ‘Ex Arte’.  The edition, inspired by the vices of man, was made in sterling silver as well as 18 k gold and porcelain featuring custom wooden painted boxes by me.

When can we expect the release for the next collection of pocket squares?

My next collection is releasing this Fall.   It’s called “The Classic Man” collection and will be available at Harry Rosen. It’s all about the “classic” guy – the guy who travels a lot, like traditional things ..and I have updated and reinvented some common style imagery such as planes and the paisley pattern we see in men’s accessories to a more modern feel.


What and/or who inspires you?

I love Depression era typography, packaging, ads and the music. I love the work of Ray Johnson, the Fleischer Brothers, The Russian Avant Garde and 60’s garage rock, Andy Warhol, and the films of Jim Jarmusch.

Having said that, no artist has ever influenced me.  I enjoy the comraderie and the shared dialogue of having that artistic expression with other people, but I’ve never been influenced by anything they’ve ever said or done.


What is the best compliment you’ve ever received about your work?

It was from a small child who read my children’s book, “This Is Silly”. He said he wanted to be an artist just like me.

I love the forewards given to me by Shepard Fairey and Aimee Mann in a book on my artwork called, “I Love You, Ok?”.



[Gary is] one of those rare artists whose works is immediately inviting and familiar, yet idiosyncratic and unmistakable ..  The illustrations are beautiful both as images and fluid, abstract mark making …. Taxali is ….a master of color theory. His palette, which marries carnival, advertising, and comics is undeniably pleasing and provides the sugar to help the medicine go down… Taxali’s fluid integration of both illustration and art, or illustration as art, is a testament to the strength of his vision.

-Shepard Fairey


Aimee says:

 “There are a handful of people in my life who remind me of what art is really all about. You forget it sometimes. And sometimes it takes a watchdog at the gate to make sure it doesn’t get trifled with.  Gary is the watchdog.” 

-Aimee Mann


Which do you prefer, quality or quantity, and why?


Sometimes the sum is greater than the parts, so it’s anecdotal.   I trust myself to know at the time if it’s the former or latter. For example, I’ll just start drawing different words and characters and they may all be included in a single piece of artwork or divided into single pieces. In this way, I look at much of what I do as a body of a single work. This is especially the case when I am working on a solo exhibition. Therefore, the quantity becomes a single, over-arching theme or narrative that defines the whole show. And hopefully, it’s of good quality!


What do you love most about what you do?

The process. All the passion lies in the making. The other stuff is a byproduct really, takes a back seat to the love that is creating. Meditating daily has helped me realize this. The present moment awareness of any act is where creative blossoms. That was a big revelation when I discovered that. The excitement of not knowing where a piece will end up is a fun perk of my job as an artist. Meeting other artists and likeminded creative people from all over the world is also something I really love. I have made wonderful, lifelong friendships that I treasure.


What do you dis-like most (if anything)?

I dislike people telling (or suggesting) what I should do. It rarely happens but an artist does his best work when he’s left to his own devices. Granted, sometimes great collaborations happen. I’ve certainly benefitted and enjoyed getting new perspectives that have helped shape my creative process.


If you could give us one piece of style advice what would it be?

Style is a result of honest intentions – whether in art or fashion. When you do things to make you happy, good things happen. I also think it’s good to not be hung up on what works well for others because not only does it prevent you from finding your own style, you end up looking like a copycat. Sadly, this is far too common, and something we see in all areas of the arts.


Favourite artist?

Andy Warhol. Warhol inspired me from a stylistic perspective (the screen printing) , a philosophical perspective (make the art you love despite what others thing) and from a business perspective (business art is the best kind of art). He defined a new paradigm in the pop art world that artists after him could flourish in, with their own unique styles. I love the notion of connecting with an audience in a familiar way and this is something I learned from Andy Warhol. I hope people pick up on those connections in my work. Currently, there is a wonderful exhibition of Warhol’s work at the Revolver Gallery in Toronto. The show is accompanied by a Lecture Series and I was honoured to speak at the gallery recently on August 6th, Warhol’s birthday.


Favourite musician?

These days, it’s Mississippi Fred McDowell. … but I have other musicians I love as well like Aimee Mann. I did the Album Cover Art of her album, “Smilers” which got nominated for a Grammy in 2009.

However, I have a few words about Sly Stone – a genius musician.   Sly Stone was homeless for a long time. (That sentence was very hard for me to write, and even harder to contemplate). Yet, he is one of the most important and influential musicians of all time, exploited and used by the very people that were supposed to help him bring his music to the world. The courts decided enough was enough and paid the man $5 million in unpaid royalties this year. I don’t see justice in this outcome, I see a mere gesture of restitution. No amount of money can erase the decades of hell he lived through. If you’re reading this, please, just buy a Sly Stone album. The music is important, impactful, genius, necessary, and it belongs in everyone’s collection.

The constant cruelty through theft directed at artists and musicians is dense, rampant and never ending. The world wants what we offer but doesn’t want to pay us. We’re encouraged to be creative but more people steal from us than pay us. We create and shape culture. The soul of a people and civilization is defined through its painting, music, dance, poetry, photography, film, sculpture, you name it. It should not be on a pedestal but it warrants respect.

Favourite fashion designer?

Me and my tailor, when we put together a bespoke suit.

Favourite photographer?

Raghubir Singh. He was a wonderful, documentary photographer from India who really captured the spirit, energy and culture of its people. When I look at his work, I am transformed back to India.

Favourite book?

“The Creative Process” by Brewster Ghiselin. …

Are there any future plans you can disclose/mention at this time?

In November 21, 2105, my solo show “Hotel There” opens at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in NYC. This exhibition will feature 30 new works.


Anything else you would like to add?

Currently, I have an exhibition on display that is a retrospective of my works at a municipal gallery in Cambridge, Ontario called the “Design at Riverside I Idea Exchange” curated by Esther Shipman. It’s a show of hundreds of my works including fine art, limited edition prints, toys, books, coins, apparel and furniture. It closes on Sept 20th, 2015