Seth Taylor’s studio in Sturgeon Bay seems to belong to many artists. Live portraits are spread around a table alongside caricatures of politicians; several loose ink drawings of animals – deer, horses, sturgeon – take up an entire wall; a watercolor is beginning to take shape on an easel near the window; and brightly colored children’s illustrations – dancing bears, smiling mushrooms and animal toes – alternate on the computer screen.

“As an artist, you’re told to have only one answer: ‘What kind of art do you make?’ Taylor said. “I’ve never been able to limit my curiosity in one direction—to my detriment in some respects—but I think that makes things a lot more interesting.”

Passport in hand, Taylor has followed this curiosity to the far corners of the globe for the past 30 years, ever since he enrolled as a foreign exchange student in Malaysia right out of high school. It was an experience he found fascinating, liberating and addictive.

“In the US, you have certain cultural expectations — things you’re expected to do,” he said. “When I went to Malaysia, nobody knew what Americans were supposed to do, but they also didn’t expect me to be Malaysian, so it’s this space where you’re allowed to be a culture of your own. You are who you are.”

With this new sense of self, Taylor continued to acquire an art education not by careful planning, but by chance, and through his own will and desire to learn all he could from whomever he could.

“A lot of artists, when they talk about where they learned art, it’s a list of different institutions, different practices,” Taylor said, “but for me it’s kind of a list of places I’ve been and what art. was happening [that] I ran there.”

Traditional Chinese ink painting was first introduced to an artist commune in Beijing. Taylor was skeptical at first.

“I always felt — and part of it was looking at it with uneducated eyes — that Chinese painting always looked the same,” he said. “Like Renaissance art, a kid would look at it and say, ‘It’s just old,’ but in Beijing I started to see artists doing new things with it.”

Taylor added more layers to his education in Vietnam, learning about values ​​and tones from a photocopy artist working with charcoal dust on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, where he also learned technical painting skills from a group of artists, the professions of which involved re-creation. famous European paintings that were sent to China and Europe.

“Another Mountain” by Seth Taylor

“One guy was Van Gogh’s son, and he painted Van Gogh sunflowers 50 times a week. There would be one guy who would do Rembrandt and one who would do Monet’s lilies,” Taylor recalls. “As long as I didn’t get in the way, they were willing to let me hang out.”

He studied art history when he traveled in dump trucks to the far corners of Qinghai province, a remote region of China that is technically closed to foreigners, “but there were so few people—mostly yak herders and Tibetan monks—no one implemented it,” he said.

The monks welcomed him into their monasteries, showing him the ancient Buddhist art known as Thangka scrolls (Google them – they’re incredible), which had to be hidden from the Chinese government.

Taylor’s brushwork was honed during a calligraphy class in Taiwan, where the classes ranged from beginner to advanced. “I never got off the starter’s seat,” he said with a laugh.

He delved deeper into Thangka painting in India, honed his portrait skills in Japan, and studied drawing, painting and watercolor in South Korea.

Photo by Brett Kosmider

Throughout these 30 years of travel, Taylor primarily earned his living by teaching English. In Taiwan, he taught basic English to elementary school students and corporate English to the country managers of Microsoft, Christian Dior and Montblanc. He taught Tibetan refugees in India, where he met his wife, Hong Byung Yun. And eventually he and his wife started their own language school – the Da Vinci Language Academy – in her home country of South Korea.

“We focused our school on just elementary,” Taylor said. “Our focus was for our children to exist in English, to learn through English. We created a program that fixed all the problems I saw with traditional English language education and education in general. This was a passion for 13 years.”

During those 13 years—the longest Taylor has lived anywhere since graduating high school—he joined an artist studio, Jankura Artspace. He found a mentor, who he credits for “bringing everything together and cementing it into a style that’s more familiar to me.”

This style was the culmination of years of unconventional education and the combination of elements of Asian and Western approaches to artwork.

“The basic idea of ​​a lot of Asian art is that you have to practice doing what the masters did for 10 to 15 years. Then, over time, you develop your own style — if you’re lucky,” Taylor said. “The Western approach, especially in modern art, is [that] you should start creating your own stuff and have your own voice right away. There are positives and negatives on both sides.”

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