This Artist Took a Risk That Saved His Life

Photography by John O’Hagan

Text by Katie Wood

For more than 20 years, Trés Taylor worked as a biochemist hardly thinking about a career in art, but after a visit with Southern artist R. A. Miller in 1998 he felt inspired. He quit his job and began his journey as a painter. “I was a deer in headlights,” Trés recalls. “But it saved my life. I’m standing here (in this studio) because I decided to pick up a paintbrush one day. I took a risk.”

Taking risks, he says, is what his journey has been teaching him, over and over again. “I feel that our whole purpose on this planet is to just keep taking risks and pushing ourselves, because you’ll discover things about yourself,” he says.

Trés’s work focuses on spirituality, love, peace, and joy—and his journey to find those elements can be seen in his works, especially if you’ve heard his story. When Trés had been painting for about a year and a half, he went to Japan where he was given three months to put a show together. Lacking inspiration and filled with self-doubt, Trés felt completely lost. “I went into my studio every day and just racked my head for some kind of idea. I didn’t know what to paint, and I’d think to myself, ‘This is a terrible mistake, I never should have quit my job,’” he says. Desperate for inspiration, he took a walk in the woods through the apple orchards and cherry blossoms that he says changed his life.

Photography by John O’Hagan

On a trail behind his studio at the top of a hill, he found a little hut where he prayed for inspiration, but left still feeling overwhelming pressure with the show now a month and a half away. He headed back to the studio. “Then I caught myself,” he says. “I was supposed to take a walk to calm down and let it go. That’s when I started noticing the forest around me had this incredible, beautiful light coming down through the treetops. I’m just so caught and enraptured by this beautiful scenery.”

From his studio loft in Birmingham, Alabama, Trés continues his journey in his own unique and unconventional ways. To begin a work he rolls out sheets of roofing paper as his canvas and gallons of interior paint as his medium. He then “carves” the details of his figures with a drill—revealing the tar paper as a strong black outline. He puts the finishing touches—like a rosy red cheek—using only his fingers. His signature subject is a monk.

Photography by John O’Hagan

Trés laughs and admits the next part of his story may be hard to believe. “All of the sudden from where I was standing I see something in the corner of my eye so I look, and I walk down and there was a toad that hopped across the trail and stopped,” Trés says, noting the place where the toad stopped was a feather. “I picked up the feather and then, through the treetops I see what looks like a crow. All of the sudden—this hawk is hovering above me. I’m sitting there, and I’m dancing with this feather and the hawk is circling me. It was so powerful I had these tears. I just kept saying, ‘What is this?’”

Trés returned to his studio filled with fresh inspiration. “I am on fire,” he says, recalling the moment. “I grab this book that I had brought with me. And I open it—I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what just happened—and it falls open to this page where there’s this Native American standing beside a river.” He remembers a paragraph describing how Western cultures have lost touch with the forces of nature that Native Americans have understood for thousands of years.