Q + A with Taylor Lee

Taylor Lee is an abstract painter using her bipolar disorder as a super power for mental kindness and artistic creativity. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, she has spent a summer in Puebla City, Mexico, where much of her wild colors are inspired from. 

If our art was only about us, then it wouldn’t do anyone else any good.
— Taylor Lee

1. Your artwork is best known for reflecting your bipolar disorder. Has painting always been a release for you when dealing with mental illness, or did you happily stumble into this talent later in life?

Painting was not always a release for me. There was a long time in which I based the value of my artwork on how "skilled" or not it was. During those times it was almost like mental illness was the boss of my creativity. I had a really hard time learning to let go of perfection and to find value in the process, not just the product. I was introduced to art therapy 6 years ago, when I was at an inpatient facility for my eating disorder, and that's when I was introduced to abstract and expressive artwork.

2. Your paintings are always filled with bright colors! What is your creative process, and how do you choose your color palette?

I first choose colors by shopping. When I'm at my art supply store, I'm captivated by all of the colors in the tubes. I prefer Golden Acrylics, and they have such a wide range of color choices that it's hard not to get lost in them right from the tube. The way I've chosen color palettes lately depends a little more on the process of mixing. I'll start with one color and see how many other colors I can get from it. This is a trick I learned from Amira Rahim, who taught me her color mixing process in a workshop in North Carolina last year. Finally, once I have most of the colors on the canvas, I'll choose what I call the "game changer." It's the color that doesn't necessary come from the others, but when you put it up on the canvas you get a BAM kind of moment. To me, it's like adding a pinch of cinnamon. 


3. You spent the summer of 2017 in Puebla City, Mexico as an artist-in-resident. What was this experience like for you?

My residency in Puebla was so affirming. I hope no one else has to fly all the way to Mexico and back to feel like they are a legitimate artist, but that's what that experience did for me. It was a signal to myself of my dedication to living this life. My mentor, Francisco, urged me to understand the impact of my artwork and to also understand that while our artwork is deeply personal, that's not enough. For the fullest, most positive impact, our artwork has to come from a place within us, yes, but it also has to be decentered from us, meaning that we cannot be the center of our artwork. If our art was only about us, then it wouldn't do anyone else any good. I think it'll take a career to get the balance of what Francisco was saying right, but what I try to do with my artwork is this: let it come from a place of genuine experience that I have, but after that let it go so that it can speak to a larger group, and therefore a larger purpose. Yes, my art is about my own mental illness, but I'm not the only one with mental illness. My art is for everyone else who has this experience. My paintings tell my story, but they also tell a lot of other people's story, so I'm thinking about them when I paint - not just me.


4. What daily struggles do you face as an artist?

I have a short attention span, so I'm always dissatisfied with what I've created. I'm always berating myself to change the colors or the compositions, to try whatever new idea I have. It's hard for me to get comfortable focusing on developing one style or one palette because I'm always moving on. That lack of satisfaction with my work does keep me moving forward, chasing the ideal, but at the same time it can paralyze me if I start thinking "I'll never be good enough." My struggles are mostly learning when to push myself and when to slow myself down.

5. What's next for you in 2018?

This year I'm excited to launch a podcast! It's going to be about "How to Thrive as an Artist with Mental Illness," though that's not the title yet - I need something catchier. I'm creating this podcast for my current group of followers who talk with me on a daily basis about all of the struggles that come with being an artist who struggles with mental illness. My message is all about owning my bipolar disorder as a superpower that helps me create amazing work, and I want to talk other artists through doing something similar. I firmly believe that what we call "mental illness" is actually neurodiversity. A lot of the differences between us are differences of degrees, not categories.When we learn how to accept those differences and use them to fuel something as powerful as art, we can not only find purpose but we can also find community and the courage to live and tell the tale.

Learn more about Taylor here.

Jessie Reyna