By Mateo Peralta
From the complex mechanics of war planes to the disciplined organization of military officers, illustrating scenes from battlefronts is no easy task.
It takes a detailed eye and extraordinary amount of talent, and Canadian artist Raymond Taylor has possessed just that throughout his life and extensive career.
Using watercolors and canvas as his preferred means of painting, Taylor has recreated vast landscapes, human portraits, and renditions of some of the most consequential fighter jets of modern history.
Taylor could have never imagined the arts-focused career he would dive into after being born and raised in the Eastern Beaches area of Toronto during World War II.
While Canadian soldiers battled abroad, the young Taylor’s own family upbringing drew him into the world of art.
“My father always wanted to be an artist, but circumstances didn’t allow that to happen,” Taylor recalled. “He came from a family of four boys and after his father died in a workplace accident, they didn’t have the means to have a good education which was frustrating and difficult for him.”
He started drawing at the age of ten, during one of the most pivotal periods of Canadian and global history and it was the images of war he witnessed that got the ball rolling for him as an artist.
“I was 14 when World War II ended and I remember a lot of war movies coming out that really glorified things,” he said.
“I was in a very impressionable age and I was drawn by the color of the uniforms and country bands.”
This fascination spawned his extensive commercial arts career after he graduated from the Ontario College of Art (now known as the Ontario College of Art and Design) in 1952.
Taylor proceeded to work as an artist and director in Toronto studios and engraving houses for a period of fifteen years. After spending the year of 1967 in London, England as an illustrator, Taylor returned to open his own Toronto studio in 1968.
He spent decades as a commercial artist while painting on the side and achieving great feats as an artist with his 1970 design on the Canadian Dollar, the 1978 Canadian Dollar, and two 1988 Olympic coins.
It was in 1986 when Taylor had one of the most transformative and influential periods of his life and career. He moved to the Canadian Air Force base of Baden-Soellingen in West Germany where he produced local landscapes and portraits along with his arresting military paintings.
With his own son Scott (Esprit de Corps’ publisher) in the military at the time, Taylor’s year-long stay at the military base with his wife put his fascination with the military in a personal light.
“It was quite a remarkable experience. We were in a foreign country but everybody on the base and surrounding area was incredibly friendly. We had very close access to life on the military base along with the beautiful German countryside and German culture,” Taylor said.
On the side of his commercial career, Taylor had recreated stunning scenes of Canadians at war, but following his time in Germany, his paintings took on a new life.
“I would see something that was picturesque and would get inspired. I would see a person or landscape and create it in my own style.”
When he began painting, it would take him approximately a week to finish a piece, but after years of experience he had the process down to a day or two.
Since finishing his career and entering retirement, Taylor has developed a more nuanced view of his art and military images in the age of modern warfare.
“So much of it back then really was propaganda. With so many drones and so much being mechanical now, you can’t really glorify any of it and so I haven’t had that much interest lately to do military painting,” he said.
Nevertheless, Taylor is grateful for the opportunity to have created artwork for some of the individuals who needed it and valued it the most.
“It was initially just a memento for the people on the base, sometimes of the different soldiers so that they would have something to take back home and it really meant a lot to them,” he said.
Selling the war-based paintings was never the initial plan for Taylor and he described how much he appreciated being able to use his talents in recognition of such an important subject and era.
“It’s gratifying just to be able to paint and share it.”