Chances are you’ve seen the work of Julian Taylor around Liverpool, around the North-West. In fact, you’ll have done pretty bloody well to avoid it in the Capital of Culture over the last 15 years. Shoes, horses, bluebells and hybrids. Sculptures in metal, wood and, er, bike.
If you’re still unsure then look no further than the Superlambanana, Liverpool’s very own cultural symbol representing… well, something.
Seven Streets asks Julian about a cafe made of bikes, Liverpool’s artistic scene and how to make a Superlambanana.
Who are you and what do you do?
Artist would cover it. I’ll have a go at most things! Art is, or should be, more of a thought process than an easily-defined role or a material-based skill. Response to a stimulus, in its broadest sense.
In the main I help out by making what an artist needs to realise their idea. I work with others to make metal chassis, metal foundations, brackets. I tinker with bike bits for that [Michael] Tingley-type function-action art performance stuff.
How did you get where you are today?
Luck mostly. I found job after job, moving around and working with great people and some real shits as well. You learn that a contract doesn’t mean you will be paid.
Metal work is aggressive. You spend most of the time protecting yourself from burns, dust, sparks, fumes, volatile chemicals, blindness, sound and weight injury… and put up with repetitive actions in extreme heat, or extreme cold.
That was one reason to challenge myself on a broader artistic level, to find other media to work with. I still bang out metal now and again, it’s good to keep your hand in.
What distinguishes you from a carpenter or metalworker?
With my art training, I understand the deeper art concepts more than a general fabricator would. I followed a course into blacksmithing, I seemed to be good at it at school. I got into art and thought it could help understanding why, and what, to make.
I had the training to fill in the gap that most artists have; they don’t know how to make stuff.
How do you source your materials?
Metal comes from steel supplies or is recycled from old projects. It’s a very expensive carbon-footprint material, so I like to reuse everything.
I know a tree surgeon and he tries to keep lumps, rather than chop it for burning. The norm is to cut it into small bits, which is no use for wood work.
Liverpool is a tree-filled city in many respects; it should be making more of this gift. Many of the trees are fully mature and the city needs replanting projects.
How do you make a Superlambanana?
The real difficulty is the size. To scale something so small within a budget.
You need a plinth so it does not fall over or sink into the pavement. Then a steel reinforcing bar welded into framework, like the sculpture in the matchworks site; cover it in chicken wire; then cement rendered from both sides into the lattice approximately 25mm thick.
Wait until dry, then paint.
What does the Superlambanana mean?
Manga cartoons in the main. Taro [Chiezo] is into this; very man-machine, the hidden thing inside the art form.
Things changing from one to another: the other maquettes were cows with jet engine tails; rabbits with grapefruit tails. I’d like to see more but no local gallery has displayed them yet.
He did say some stuff about genetic hybrids and the bananas brought into Liverpool, but at the time I think that it was media hype as Dolly the sheep was hot news then.
What do you think of the explosion of Go Superlambananas! and Go Penguins?
It’s OK, it gives work to artist types, puts art in the public domain and gives money to charity. As with any multiple works, there is a tendency for doing it in a style of a famous artist as it’s easy to communicate to the masses. Or the school thing.
People do love to collect, to feel part of a bigger group. One of the concepts of Go Superlambananas! was to get people to go to different areas of Liverpool. 20 minutes after I put the Matchworks sculpture in there were people coming to photograph it.!
Go Penguins! was the second album and wasn’t so good. Its family- and school-friendly, but not good enough really and the eco badge was out-of-place on plastic lumps. You get the feeling it was going to be Liver Birds but they thought better of it.
Now the Chester Rhinos are next. It’s the type of work that needs to move on, to find new sponsors to pay for the art to be made.
I did put a proposal in for Go Penguins! – the movement of penguins is its poetry.
Hub Cafe. Dicuss.
The Hub Cafe was a good creative time. I did it as a personal fundraiser during a summer break before my final year at JMU.
It’s a shame as it was a good place, but the layout did not work. All the café should have been downstairs, with the bike shop upstairs. The café was making a profit but not the rest.
Shit question time. What inspires you?
Looking back the stuff I make, the trend seems to come back to finding nature stunning. Mountains are beyond comprehension; massive lumps in a massive sky just sitting there not falling over – imagine a piece of art that large!
‘Watching’ wind blowing past; invisible but full of energy. Water ripples, waves, spins, boils and disappears. It’s see-through but reflective; and ice – well that’s an essay on its own.
We are used to small spaces: rooms, houses, gardens. The cathedral-theatre size becomes interesting because it starts to become uneasy, we’re unable to comprehend the expanse.
This is why I also find negative space – the space that an object occupies – and effect this has on its surroundings an interesting part of my work.
What are you currently working on?
Another Superlambanana – when the politics are done. I’ve also been working on bike performance equipment with the Liverpool Lantern Company for the Lord Mayor’s Parade.
Other stuff includes chassis for Faith Bebbington’s five hanging figures – aluminum frames like The Saint cartoon without a halo – before she fleshes them out.
Also, a machine to make sycamore seeds float in midair; a wood carving of bird movement; DVD shelving in local hard wood.
What other work of yours might people recognise around Merseyside?
In north Liverpool there is a sculpture towards Altcar from the direction of Crosby Gormley beach; a digitised representation of a local found object – a project that was fun, I did not know what was going to come out of the workshop.
Of your work, what are you most proud of?
Superlambanana is up there… I like the shoe piece at Broughton Hall High School, built with John Merrill. I have made so many things it’s funny to bump into them now and again.
The Nantwich Horse was a John Merill concept too, which we built together, as was the Bluebell at The Wild Flower centre.
Name your favorite thing in Liverpool
Bloody Gormley, it’s just perfect work!
It’s a creative city, the Spider (La Machine) was good, but why do we have to import this art? We should also support the local mechanical artist. Yep, jealous.