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Noah Taylor’s Strange, Blankly Beautiful Paintings

We spoke to the artist about Australian landscapes and being good at everything.

by Jack Callil
07 May 2015, 4:30pm

Noah Taylor is an artist and musician who has been performing in bands and starring in seminal Australian films for decades. If that doesn't ring any bells but you're still staring at the picture above wondering if you served him at a coffee shop or something, he's also the dude who (spoiler!) cuts a certain Lannister's hand off in Games of Thrones.

But let's not get too caught up with his maiming of incestuous antiheroes—there's a lot more to him. For starters, his darkly sad paintings have been picking up attention in recent years. Long-time friend—and fellow brooding, multitalented artist—Nick Cave describes his pal's portraits as having a "strange blank beauty."

Noah will be speaking at this year's Semi-Permanent event in Sydney about his work and career. Before he gets sucked into the champagne-soaked, chin-stroking world of Australian creative events, we called him up to talk about being good at everything.

VICE: What will you be speaking about at Semi-Permanent?
Noah Taylor: That's a good question, one I need to figure out in the next week or so! I don't really see myself as being a part of the art scene. So I certainly don't feel in a position to lecture people in regards to how art should be approached technically, creatively, or in any kind of business sense.

Come on, you're not doing too badly.
I guess I'll share a few anecdotes about my own path to painting and creativity in general. There's a few things that get my goat that I might talk about, such as the oversaturation and repetition of imagery on the internet and how that has affected people's imagination. You know, grumpy old man rant.

In relation to your own paintings, you've said they all take place on an anonymous Australian landscape. That's a pretty ambiguous statement, what does it mean to you?
Deserts are an ideal landscape in which to place a lone figure, and the sense of loneliness of the person is reflected in that sort of setting as well. It's a technique beloved of spaghetti westerns. It's also a source of inspiration to me.

Religious art and comics also influence your work, can you explain how they bleed together?
I've always been very fond of both religious paintings and comics. They are telling stories, or a moment of one, in a single frame. They both utilize the volume of space around a figure within a frame brilliantly, and both understand conveying emotion through the drawing and painting of eyes in a way a lot of other forms of graphic representation often don't.

Nick Cave is a fan of your painting, and I heard he was your neighbor once, what's your relationship with him?
Nick is a mate. I don't see a lot of him these days, as he's the busiest man in showbiz. Lovely fella.

You both cross over a lot between music, acting and art—does painting give you a satisfaction that others don't?
I kind of fell into acting at an early age and have never been sure of my place in that world; occasionally it's fun and rewarding. A lot of times it's a massive pain and very creatively unsatisfying. Music and painting to me are divine in the true sense of the world and come from a much simpler, purer place.

I really like your band Noah Taylor and the Sloppy Boys, who do you play with and where do you guys usually perform?
Glad you like them. The Sloppy Boys were a kind of one-off deal, the other two gents are Cec Condon of the Mess Hall—probably one the greatest drummers on the planet right now—and Ed Clayton Jones (the Wreckery) on guitar.

And I mainly play in little dive bars in Brighton in the UK with my other band The Rhinestoned Immaculates.

Noah playing with his band Noah Taylor and the Sloppy Boys

You used to want to be in the army when you were younger—why, and what changed?
Much to my disappointment, I realized I have a virulent pacifist streak and an aversion to being told what to do. So army life probably wouldn't have worked for me.

As your career is primarily as an actor, when do you find the time to paint?
Being an actor means being unemployed for a lot of the time, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you choose to look at it. So I have enough time to paint.

You can see Noah speak at Semi-Permanent in Sydney on May 22 and 23. VICE readers get 25 percent off using the code 15SPVICE. Buy tickets here.

Follow Jack on Twitter.

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