American Stories, in Wood

Art depicting Vegas showgirl kissing businessman

Fusing the traditional craft of marquetry (wood inlay) with contemporary subjects—like seamy bars, glittering showgirls, and black life in Brooklyn—artist Alison Elizabeth Taylor offers hybridized views of American life. Realistic, sometimes with hints of a film noir, her collaged perspectives capture a sense of resilience and beauty amid less-than-idyllic environments. Her meticulous control of materials is clear in the 50 works on display in “Alison Elizabeth Taylor: The Sum of It,” at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, February 18 through July 30.

Laocoön, by Alison Elizabeth Taylor
Images courtesy of Alison Elizabeth Taylor and the James Cohan Gallery, New York

The Desert Inn, composed of layered wood veneers, paint, and photographs, features a Las Vegas dancer showily pecking a businessman on the lips amid sand, palm trees, marquees, and a voyeuristic onlooker. Anthony Cuts under the Wburg Bridge, inspired by walks through Taylor’s Brooklyn neighborhood during the pandemic, highlights salon artist Anthony Payne, who had moved his business outdoors, providing a chair and faux-gilded mirror to patrons amid graffitied walls and construction debris.

The show traces Taylor’s evolution, from collaging inexpensive woodgrain Con-Tact paper while a graduate student at Columbia University to adding popping colors, photographic overlays, acrylic, and even glitter to evoke visual narratives. Her views of nature, as in Laocoön, also speak to a touching combination of vibrancy and fragility—look at that fiery skyline and persevering branches; but see, too, the cracks and splits in the wood. Her tree, contorted and straining for sunlight, could be any struggling person craving food, money, or love. 

Read more articles by: Nell Porter Brown

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