Shards of Inspiration
We all know Prince influenced thousands of artists around the world, but one of the most important facets of Prince’s personality was that he allowed himself to also be influenced by others. Sometimes he saw art that inspired him, and other times there was a mutual interaction of energy that resulted in the art and music that we have all come to know and love. Let’s take our focus off Prince’s craft and turn our attention to those who inspired him to create and who draw their inspiration from that deep purple well.
Our first artist feature is about New York-based painter and free spirit, Taylor Coleman, also known online as Zooey Art. Taylor is a human that is as grounded as they come. When she isn’t teaching elementary school art or simultaneously completing two master degrees, she has her feet firmly planted in the ground. She spends hours on end sitting in nature waiting for the chipmunks to come eat right from her hand but can always be found painting while she waits. Currently, she paints “droopy eyes,” which is also where her artistic journey began. Between then and now, she was asked to create for Prince.
As a high school art student, Taylor was most inspired by urban aesthetics like cityscapes and the bright colors and drips featured in graffiti. These graffiti-like techniques showed up in all of Taylor’s paintings and that continues to this day. As most high school students likely do, Taylor fell into a routine of mainly painting for school projects based more on a grade than fueled by personal inspiration. Her own individual artistry slowly started to form in a sketchbook she carried around, in which she drew what has become her signature “droopy eyes.”
Inspiration started flooding into her creative space in college when she was surrounded by like-minded creatives with whom she could collaborate. It was during these years she learned to let only inspiration and experimentation dictate the subject (or lack thereof) in her paintings. By “turning off her brain,” Taylor allowed herself to simply paint what came to mind without a specific end goal for her art. Taylor recalls, “it was not some of my best work but some of my most experimental and helped me break free from having an image to reference when painting.” This sense of freedom is a recurring theme with the artists that Prince chose to work with (many of whom you will read about in the coming months). Perhaps, like Taylor, being surrounded by like-minded individuals who value freedom the way Prince did also inspired him to be more experimental and inventive.
From a young age, Taylor’s love for art was intense, but she struggled with the question of whether it was a career path or simply a hobby. The answer to this question was presented to her in the form of another hobby: music. From the time Taylor was young, Prince’s music served as a source of inspiration. She would ride her bike around the neighborhood with violins and tambourines playing in her ears and vivid pictures of the stories Prince told playing in full color within her mind. Her favorite song, Raspberry Beret, serves as a backdrop every morning on her way to work, to inspire her and transform her day into something beautiful.
“As I grew up, so did the internet. Instead of instant messaging friends, I spent time on eBay researching concert tickets, t-shirts, anything about Prince.” And as Taylor evolved, so did the way celebrities communicated with their fans. In 2013, Taylor joined Twitter as @zoolor in hopes of interacting with the celebrities she admired. At the time, Prince had yet to explore this form of social media, but soon after, @3rdeyegirl was formed. Taylor’s favorite aspect of Prince was the way he made himself available to his fans, so it was no surprise to her that he would embrace Twitter as a form of communication. For one of their first interactions, Taylor asked @3rdeyegirl to write her a song, to which she received the reply, “@zoolor OK, hERE YA GO: ‘zOOEY zAPPA…tAKE A NAPPA.’” Her next interaction with Prince, however, was quite overwhelming.
For her birthday that year, Taylor’s boyfriend gifted her a guitar which she hoped to learn to play. With Prince, his creativity often seeped to different outlets. He was a genius musician, but he was also visually creative. This was not the case with Taylor. She eventually gave up on learning to play the guitar and fell back upon her strengths by turning the instrument into an art piece. She spent hours melting crayon onto shards of glass and gluing the pieces down to make a beautiful mosaic guitar. She immediately featured photos of this work of art on the front page of her personal website, zooeyart.com. What happened next is something only Taylor can describe, so here is the story in her own words:
“I was sitting on the couch in June when I got a message from Prince on twitter with a link to my website. He asked, ‘HOW MUCH 4 THIS?’ I was with my mom who was folding clothes, and I couldn’t find the words to even tell my mom what I had just read when I got an email notification from one of his managers asking if I was interested in a full-time graphic artist position at Paisley.”
Prince made it clear that he was incredibly interested in supporting her art and asked to purchase the mosaic guitar from Taylor to potentially use as a stage prop. She refused to accept money for it, but told him she was more than willing to loan him the guitar. Before sending the instrument, Taylor made it abundantly clear that it wasn’t meant to be played. But just in case he ignored her warning, she spent hours sanding and hot gluing the edges of the shards of glass down in fear that she would be responsible for cutting Prince’s hands with her art.
Over the next few days, Prince’s manager spoke with Taylor about redesigning Studio C with a Purple Rain theme and provided dimensions for the project. Prince gave her a week to complete four murals for the studio walls, which Taylor immediately put her all into. Her ideas for the project turned into incredible interpretations of the film and drew on aspects from the rest of Prince’s career; for example, she depicted the light reflecting off the head of Prince’s guitar turning into a vibrant collage of his future works. Prince purchased these paintings from Taylor and spoke of plans to have her fly to Paisley Park to paint the final murals in Studio C. Little did Taylor know, at least two other artists were working on the same project, as was typically the case with Prince.
When Prince passed, Taylor reached out to the lawyers representing Prince’s estate in hopes of retrieving the guitar he borrowed from her. After a few weeks of contacting people and providing evidence that the guitar was hers and was only on loan, it was finally returned. To Taylor’s surprise, Prince had purchased a gorgeous, custom guitar case lined with purple velvet in which the guitar was delivered.
“Now that Prince has passed, I make it a point to educate my students about him and his legacy.” Even before he passed, Prince was always present in Taylor’s classroom, and he knew it, as evidenced by the time he tweeted a picture of her classroom windows with his likeness painted there. But now that Prince is gone, her students love telling Ms. Coleman when they hear a song on the radio or learn something new about him.
A few months ago, Taylor was contacted by Spike Lee about providing the art for his 2nd annual Prince Born Day block party in Brooklyn, New York. Taylor was more than happy to help. Her art was featured on posters, buttons, pamphlets, shirts, banners, and on the event stage for the event. She recalls the excitement of seeing her art all over Brooklyn and says the feeling was equally as exciting as working with Prince, even though she didn’t get to see those designs come to fruition. “Both were probably equally as exciting, just having my artwork validated by such influential artists, especially two different types of artists.”
Taylor has found her inspiration mostly evolves into the “droopy eyes” that she has become known for, but Prince often appears in many of her paintings. She is more than content with shaping the lives of her students through art, and remains open to letting her two hobbies collide with Prince-related work, like Spike’s party. As far as her future relationship with Paisley Park is concerned, Taylor’s hope is that they will continue working with a plethora of artists the way Prince did. “I’d love to see them continue working with those artists and really draw out the creative energy that Prince saw in them. The money was a means to continue his craft. It didn’t drive him in his creativity and artistry; other artists drove that for him. It’d be cool to put together a gallery of fan art that he had purchased or have concerts at Paisley. I know that Prince was planning on turning Paisley Park into a museum, but for the music and art to be pushed aside it’s almost rewriting history, not honoring it.”
Do you love Taylor’s art the way Prince did? Share this article AND comment below or on the corresponding link on the People of Paisley Park Facebook page with your favorite part of Taylor’s story, your favorite design of hers, or with your hopes for Paisley Park’s future collaborations with artists like Taylor. On JULY 21, 2017, we will randomly choose one reader who BOTH shared and commented on this article to win a shirt of their choosing from Taylor’s designs on The Digital Gardens.