Art

Wallpaper Becomes a Blank Canvas for Local Artists

“This is what Providence is about for me: this invitation for people to come together and experiment and play without a sense of hierarchy.”

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Taylor Polites never anticipated that his lifelong passions for history and architecture would lead him to organize a gallery show of unique wallpaper designs by renowned artists and novices alike, but Providence’s fusion-focused, creative cultural density provided the ideal crucible. A writer, professor and Alabama native, Taylor moved to Providence in 2011, and his first historical novel was published by Simon & Schuster in 2012. He teaches fiction at RISD, Roger Williams and Wilkes University, where he earned his MFA in Creative Writing.

His historical and literary pursuits inspired an interest in “making all sorts of things,” which is why Providence’s welcoming, artistic melting pot became such an attractive place to relocate. Taylor immediately got involved with the Providence Athenaeum and various historical and social groups. An artist neighbor brought him to AS220 when Taylor needed special book plates made, and he learned how to screen press and letter press, as well as taking some antique photography classes.

“AS220 opened up this incredible world of opportunity for me,” he says. “I’m excited by trying new things and exploring different ways of creating. Providence enables that sort of exploration; the community really led me into new areas artistically.”

So why wallpaper, specifically? When he moved here, Taylor chose to live (unsurprisingly) in an old historic building right across from the Armory. One day, he decided he wanted to make wallpaper for his dining room, and set about making it happen. He was featured as a local artist in the summer 2015 Iterations exhibition at the Providence Public Library, which heavily featured pochoir: “a many-layered stenciling process that produces extremely vivid and dimensional prints... particularly popular in the late 19th and early 20th century Paris.” Taylor and fellow artists used library collection design books to inspire their own patterns.

As it turns out, blank wallpaper must be purchased in significant volumes; after the dining hall was freshly papered, Taylor had quite a lot left over. His friend Jori Ketten, who runs 186 Carpenter gallery, suggested, “Why don’t you do a wallpaper show?”

“The cultural empowerment of Providence and its artists and arts organizations is always open to opportunities for people to get together and make stuff,” says Taylor. More than 35 artists – including Xander Marro, Ian Cozzens, Caitlin Cali and Walker Mettling – signed up to participate in Flocked, Blocked and Stenciled, with participants ranging from renowned wallpaper makers to individuals who had never screen printed before. AS220 is a partner in the show; instructors Brian Whitney and Beth Brandon helped put together a slate of classes, and Taylor has organized visits to the Athenaeum’s special collections and has obtained historic wallpaper samples from the Providence Preservation Society and actual books used by Providence designers more than a century ago.

“This is what Providence is about for me: this invitation for people to come together and experiment and play without a sense of hierarchy,” says Taylor. “Everyone is welcome. I have zero background in wallpaper-making, but I can not only create it here, but also invite other people to connect and create as well.”

Flocked, Blocked and Stenciled 
September 9, 7-9pm at 186 Carpenter
186 Carpenter Street
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