Artist Profile: Taylor Lee - Charlotte
Hi Taylor! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! I'm Taylor Lee, and I'm an artist from Charlotte, NC. I primarily paint abstract and work mostly with acrylic paints, but ultimately my goal is to create pieces that are playful and fun. I'm also a mental health advocate. I have bipolar disorder, which is really interesting for my creative process, but more on that later!
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I never went to art school (although I was recently accepted into the MFA in painting program at SCAD!) - I only took a few art classes in high school and one drawing course in college. I got a BA in English Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I always thought I would end up being a teacher. I taught with Teach for America - first high school and then middle school. I loved teaching middle school, but I was a little too cavalier and didn't really follow the rules very well. I kept making up projects that weren't in the curriculum and even though I think the kids loved it I was doing a disservice to their education. Also, with bipolar disorder I have depressed episodes and during those episodes I called out sick a lot and was pretty useless. Essentially I found out pretty quickly that I would struggle to hold down a normal job with my disorder unless something majorly changed, so I decided to try and build a job for myself that allowed me the freedom I needed - both the creative freedom and the freedom to be bipolar.
What draws you to create? Has abstract art always been a medium that you've worked in?
I've been soul-searching with this question lately! I think what draws me to create is curiosity. I'll get really curious about something and use paint to explore it. For instance, recently I got fascinated with jellyfish and I spent a few days creating a large piece about them! I did go through a phase in high school when I tried to learn how to draw realistically, but I only ever drew parts of a whole. It never felt fascinating to me like abstract work does. I enjoy how abstract art is expressive and open to interpretation, so I really focus on capturing the essence of something rather than its exact likeness.
You say that you use your bipolar disorder as a superpower. Could you tell us more about your metal illness and how you harness it in your artwork?
Bipolar disorder is really hard. I alternate between manic and depressive episodes. When I'm depressed I have no interest in doing anything, lay on the couch all day, and oftentimes have suicidal ideation that I have to manage by increasing my appointments with my therapist and keeping up with my medication. When I'm manic, I cannot sit still and am filled with so many ideas (my husband and I refer to it as "I'm buzzing") and energy which can be really productive but it's also EXHAUSTING. Sometimes my head is so full that I want the mania to be over! Then there are "mixed states" between mania and depression when you kind of experience symptoms from both mania and depression. My creative process tends to echo where I'm at - I am super productive and prolific while I'm manic and usually I will rest and take a step back to reflect when I'm depressed. This level of focus and seemingly endless energy oftentimes allows me to accomplish a lot which is why it feels like a superpower. The depression, not so much, but I hired a virtual assistant who can pick up the slack a little when I'm down so that my business doesn't screech to a halt.
What draws you to share your mental health experience so publicly? Was there a time of transition to make you more comfortable with sharing?
I want to share my story to hopefully show others that they are not alone and that there is a way to operate in this world with something that makes you different. When I was younger I didn't fully understand what I was going through, but I knew that something was definitely off. I sensed my depression, and when I was 16 I asked my mom for help but didn't receive it. I think that she thought it was a phase I was going through or something, because we lived in a small town and I don't ever remember anyone ever acknowledging that mental illness was a thing. No one talked about it! I hope that by talking about it now I might be reaching some kid who is also in a small town somewhere, who knows that something is off with them. It wasn't until I was in college that I finally received the help I needed, and years after that before I received and fully understood my diagnosis. It's definitely not super easy to share so openly, but after being silent for so long I developed an impatience for pretending. I think that creating a facade benefits no one, whereas honesty benefits everyone.
When did you decide to start your support group for other artists with mental illness?
I receive so many DMs, emails, and comments from folks who are in the same boat as I am, but I realized that there wasn't really a place for us to congregate. I think I started it around November of last year - coincidentally it was when I started going into a depression episode. Maybe it started because I craved people around me, but it has become a great source of support to many others.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Definitely color! That is usually the driving factor in whatever I'm doing. I have played with line, shape, form, and other design principles but color is always the main thing that I am exploring in a piece. Usually if a piece is either working or not working for me, it's because of the color palette!
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other? How have women supported you?
I think about this interview with Lorde and how she said it better than I can. When asked what feminism meant to her she said, "It's about all the women who may not have the opportunities that I have, all the privileges that I have...trying to fight for better conditions and better treatment of all women, whether that be trans women, or women of color, or...women in professions that don't get a lot of respect." Support can be the catalyst that person needs to feel inspired, empowered, and heard. History has shown when we listen to each other and work together we can create amazing change, both on a small scale, like in a workplace, and on a much larger, global scale. Many other female entrepreneurs have helped coach and teach me how to build a business and I hope to do the same for others. As my friend Amanda Evanston once told me, you never want to be the last link in the chain. You must always try to pass on what has been given to you.
What women bring you inspiration?
I'm constantly inspired by the female artists who paved the way and made what I'm doing now possible. Frida Kahlo and Elaine de Kooning were incredible pioneers!
Do you have any resources that have been helpful to you that we should know of?
Yes! All of Amanda Evanston's online courses are amazing resources for those who want to explore painting and to have fun doing so! I highly recommend them.
How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?
I keep a folder of nice things that people say to me, notes about things I accomplished, and encouraging quotes. It's an accordion folder that is at my desk and I can pull it out whenever I've forgotten all of those good things.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I am working on learning graphic design and digital illustration! It's pretty scary because the possibilities are endless, but that's also what's so exciting about it.
What are some of your favorite places in Charlotte?
I adore Amelie's Bakery! I live right down the street from one of their locations. They have awesome pastry obviously but they also have cool treats like honey lavender soda! I also love Kickstand Burgers - they seriously have the best fries ever! Clearly I only care about places with good food lol.