“There are a lot of eyeballs”: An Interview with Keith Taylor

Could you tell us about your work and the different mediums/media you use?
I started doing “Streams” in July of 2010. I call them “streams” because of the stream of consciousness—the fact that I use a pen and there’s no pencil involved, no premeditation. It’s free-flowing connectivity. The first thing is just putting a line down, and one thing leads to another. There are a lot of eyeballs, a lot of mouths. I love line and line combinations. I love the overall patterning that happens.
I prefer pencil, but I think the permanency of pen—putting a mark on the page and living with it—is an exciting challenge.
I like to throw paint and draw cartoons. My MFA was in Lithography, and in the 70’s I ran a studio near Division and Ashland called Fine Art Hand Printing.
Does your cartooning work function differently than your “Streams” drawings?
Yes. I’ll have a cartoon pretty much generated in my head before it goes down on paper. I know how it will be presented and with what characters. Then the fun begins, trying to see what will happen between the idea and the paper. There’s pencil involved usually, because I’m working on gestures and deciding the best way to present each frame. With my pen drawings, on the other hand, it’s all spontaneity.
How has living in Chicago affected your work?
Chicago shaped me a lot as a cartoonist. I spent a lot of time working in music bars, and my cartooning really blossomed there. I’m an observer; I believe that’s what my cartooning is. I reflect on what’s going on around me. One of the first long-form pieces I did was an actual incident where a guy—a regular—was playing pool and his girlfriend came in and whomped him upside the head with her bag. Evidently she thought he was cheating on her.
Where did you work?
I started at John Barleycorn on Lincoln Avenue, and at Wise Fools, which was a blues club at the time. I later worked at Somebody Else’s Troubles, owned by Steve Goodman and the Holstein Brothers, and at Holstein’s, which was also owned by the Holstein Brothers.
Were there any recurring characters?
There was a doorman at Wise Fools, Paul Hemstreet. I believe he was a war veteran, and he smoked a pipe. The guy had a wig on, a rug underneath his white hat, and he communicated with the bar in signals. This meant he wanted a shot of mescal, this meant he wanted a beer back, and this meant he wanted a cognac. He rarely talked to anybody.
He had a friend who was a sculptor, who built a life-sized model of him that sat at a table with a little recorder. You could press this foot button…you’d stand next to the dummy and hit the button and it would start singing, “I neeeed a drink! Oh, I neeeeed a drink! Waitress! Some cocktails for my army!” I would do drawings of Paul. He was a curmudgeon—he just did not like anybody who came in there. He didn’t like any kind of a hassle. He became part of many of the cartoons that I drew, because he was such a character.
Could you tell us about what you’re working on right now?
I’m working on the “Streams” all the time. I finished one a couple of days ago, and recently donated another to Woman Made Gallery for their gala.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a book my brother-in-law gave me. It has notes and letters from Illinois and the prairie from 1730 to 1960. I’m in 1857 right now. It’s nice to strip away everything else and see what it would be like without all the crap around here, the road signs, even the roads. It’s wonderful looking at old cartoons, too, and seeing how people used words. That’s a fascinating read.

Streams by Keith Taylor