Henry Taylor: B Side

Oct 4, 2023–Jan 28, 2024

For more than thirty years, the Los Angeles–based artist Henry Taylor (b. 1958) has portrayed people from widely different backgrounds—family members, friends, neighbors, celebrities, politicians, and strangers—with a mixture of raw immediacy and tenderness. His improvisational approach to artmaking is hinted at in this exhibition’s title, Henry Taylor: B Side, which refers to the side of a record album that often contains lesser-known, more experimental songs. 

Taylor’s paintings, executed quickly and instinctually from memory, newspaper clippings, snapshots, and in-person sittings, are variously light-hearted, intimate, and somber. In them, he combines flat planes of bold, sensuous color with areas of rich, intimate detail and loose brushstrokes to create paintings that feel alive. Guided by a deep-seated empathy for people and their lived experiences, Taylor captures the humanity, social milieu, and mood of his subjects, whose visceral presence is heightened by their closely cropped, often life-size images. In working from personal experience and shared history, Taylor offers a view of everyday life in the United States that is grounded in the experiences of his own community, including the incarceration, poverty, and often deadly interactions with police that disproportionately affect Black Americans. Deeply steeped in art history, his work forms a continuum with the expressive figurative painting and politically engaged work of European and American artists from Max Beckmann to Bob Thompson, Philip Guston, and Alice Neel.      

Born in the Los Angeles suburb of Ventura, California, Taylor grew up nearby in Oxnard. While studying art at Oxnard Community College and later the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), he worked at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital as a psychiatric technician on the night shift. After graduating from CalArts in 1995 and moving to downtown Los Angeles, Taylor became a mainstay of the burgeoning art community there and a leading influence on the rise of figurative painting.                   

Organized thematically, Henry Taylor: B Side presents the artist’s paintings along with a selection of his assemblage sculptures, rarely exhibited early drawings, a large grouping of painted objects on recycled cigarette packs and other everyday supports, and two new installations, one made specifically for this exhibition.                                

This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), in Los Angeles, and curated by Bennett Simpson, Senior Curator, with Anastasia Kahn, Curatorial Assistant, at MOCA. The presentation at the Whitney Museum of American Art is organized by Barbara Haskell, Curator at the Whitney, with Colton Klein, Curatorial Assistant, and Caroline Webb, Curatorial Assistant.

Please read about the exhibition’s accessibility information before visiting Henry Taylor: B Side.

Henry Taylor: B Side is organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

This exhibition is sponsored by


Generous support is provided by Judy Hart Angelo; the Barbara Haskell American Fellows Legacy Fund; Oliver Haarmann; Kevin and Rosemary McNeely, Manitou Fund; and the Whitney’s National Committee.

Major support is provided by The Keith Haring Foundation Exhibition Fund, Hauser & Wirth, Sueyun and Gene Locks, and George Wells and Manfred Rantner.

Significant support is provided by the Kapadia Equity Fund.

Additional support is provided by The Cowles Charitable Trust.

New York magazine is the exclusive media sponsor.



From 1984 to 1995 Taylor worked as a psychiatric technician on the night shift at the now-shuttered Camarillo State Mental Hospital, where he cared for adults living with developmental disabilities or mental illness as well as those seeking treatment for substance use disorders. The pencil sketches he made of patients with whom he had close, sustained relationships are among his earliest works. Known as the “Camarillo Drawings,” many include quotes from the sitters or Taylor’s own stream-of-conscious notes. The empathetic observation of physical and psychological states that Taylor developed at Camarillo would become a hallmark of his portrait drawings and paintings.

By day, Taylor studied at Oxnard Community College (1985–90) and the California Institute of the Arts (1990–95). The paintings he made during this period merge his sensitivity to emotions with bold color and the graphic vocabulary of popular culture.

Henry Taylor, Untitled, 1991


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Audio guides

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from the exhibition.

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Exhibition Catalogue

Surveying 30 years of Henry Taylor’s work in painting, sculpture and installation, this comprehensive monograph celebrates a Los Angeles artist widely appreciated for his unique aesthetic, social vision and freewheeling experimentation. Taylor’s portraits and allegorical tableaux—populated by friends, family members, strangers on the street, athletic stars and entertainers—display flashes of familiarity in their seemingly brash compositions, which nonetheless linger in the imagination with uncanny detail. In his paintings on cigarette packs, cereal boxes and other found supports, Taylor brings his primary medium into the realm of common culture. Similarly, the artist’s installations often recode the forms and symbolisms of found materials (bleach bottles, push brooms) to play upon art historical tropes and modernism’s appropriations of African or African American culture. Taken together, the various strands of Taylor’s practice display a deep observation of Black life in America at the turn of the century, while also inviting a humanist fellowship that pushes outward from the particular.

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In the News

“...an empathetic portrait painter.” —The New Yorker 

 “As long as there are artists like Henry Taylor around, painting is in little danger of dying.” —The New York Times

“The other strand of Taylor’s art concerns a larger, shared American history. Subjects don’t sit for these works, but most of them are still portraits, albeit ones that reflect a collective memory.”  —T Magazine 

“Taylor rewrites art history, often with art historical references, to amplify Black people who have been overlooked or undermined by the canon and systems of power and control.” —Forbes

“Through painting, drawing, sculpture, and installation, this retrospective celebrates an artist widely appreciated for his unique aesthetic, social vision, and freewheeling experimentation. Taylor’s figurative work… showcases an imagination that encompasses multiple worlds.” —Art Africa Magazine

“…Taylor approaches the world and the people in it not as an aloof observer or “student of man,” but as someone full of empathy, someone who lives here too.” —Artforum 

“…the best show of 2023.” —New York Magazine 

“This, Taylor’s first career survey, will prove that his big, lushly brushed portraits are not all he does well.” —The Washington Post