VMPA Senior Thesis

Jonah Taylor


My sculptural work explores play as cultural practice and meditates on the art process itself as a site of play: a refuge for imagination, intuition, and spontaneity in a world that prefers linear and rational thinking. Through fantastical, whimsical sculpture using plants in unexpected places, I conceptualize play as a garden paradise of the mind where joy, creativity, and expressiveness grow boundlessly. My sculpture expresses the spirit of play as precious, luscious abundance, oozing liquid gold from toys and forms of play drawn from my childhood—elevating painted fingernails, balloons, and dolls to the surreal and sublime. These artworks also evoke the eerie darkness of play as fleeting innocence and paradise lost, a window to the mysterious horizons of the unconscious mind. I primarily express these pieces through clay, a material that itself is playful and essential. Resilient yet fragile, clay allows me to surrender some control to the process of making, trusting my hand and heart to create work that finds truth in fantasy.   


“Playing Dress Up (Painted Fingernails)”

This work shows a series of five index fingers sitting atop the ground in a line, each finger in a different state of flexion and measuring three feet in height with a dark grey metallic sheen. The fingernails are composed of living moss and weeds.

These sculptures comment on the nature of play and the play of nature. Fingernails “painted” with plants reflect a surreal form of playing dress up. Plants suggest play as a garden paradise of the mind where joy, creativity, and expressiveness grow with boundless abundance. The fingers—eerie and dark— appear frozen in dance, reflecting the whimsy as well as the darkness of play. The series imagines play as looming paradise lost, a window to the language-defying corners of the unconscious mind and site of fleeting innocence. The choice of moss and weeds, which playfully taunt us with their resilient growth in spite of our best efforts to control them, reflect the impulse to hide what we dislike in our environment and within ourselves. We can herbicide our weeds and sanitize our playfulness, but at what cost to the earth and human spirit?