Henry Taylor “The Times Thay Ain’t a Changing, Fast Enough”

Henry Taylor’s “The Times Thay Ain’t a Changing, Fast Enough”, depicts the violent and tragic death of Philando Castillo. The title of the painting concisely reveals the artists position towards the current political climate and discrimination the African American community struggles through continuously. Taylor’s subject matter is very openly a statement for social justice but also appears to be a beautiful abstract narrative with balanced color and composition.

Before his appearance at the Whitney Biennial his paintings were classified as outsider art which pushes his work into the category of “naive” figurative paintings. It was also criticized as though it appeared to be created by a “self-taught” artist. This painting and his others are anything but that. His work is direct and potent, also it is a reflection of Taylor’s experience. The painting is a revealing perspective that casts the audience in Castillo’s fiancés seat as she watched her soon to be husband die. The simplified shapes and colors create a very direct composition.

If the subject matter doesn’t instantly grasp your attention the opaque colors are equally captivating. It’s hard to ignore the subject as a gleaming white eye unblinking stares into the gaze of the viewer. The white of the eye instantly pulls my attention to the white mass of the figure which contrasts heavily with the black headliner of the interior of the vehicle, Phillando’s last view. The black pigment instantly pulls me to the dark shirt of the police officer and then the murder weapon. The large swath of orange reads as a cautionary hue. The actual view through those windows might be blue considering the small patch of blue sky flashing only momentarily in the top middle portion of the composition. That little patch of blue symbolizes hope until it drags you down the seatbelt and over the body of Philando and back into the green interior of the car. The colors and shapes of the composition are masterfully placed by a skilled artist who intentionally guides the viewer through this scene. The placement of each value is done purposefully and causes an involuntary scanning that demands attention on key elements.

James Taylor has a unique ability to combine content and color in such a way that the image is clear from across the room. He uses large scale to produce a monumental vision of what he wishes to portray. This strategy is beneficial to his message of racial inequality. The way he transforms figures into big colorful shapes allows the image to fall into an abstract narrative and feels accessible to someone as naive as myself. When I saw this painting at the biennial I stood in front of it and was forced to contemplate my own life and my privileged existence. In this moment I realized how successful he was at portraying his message.

6 Replies to “Henry Taylor “The Times Thay Ain’t a Changing, Fast Enough””

  1. The officer who shot Castille was Jeronimo Yanez, but that doesn’t quite fit the narrative, so Taylor made the officer’s hand white. In 2019 the number of black people shot by the police was 1,180, as compared to 2,235 white people. I sure they are racist cases of police brutality and murder, but in reality, and contrary to popular belief, white people get shot more, and one of the biggest reasons is resisting arrest, and especially reaching for a gun, or appearing to. In this case the officer asked Castille not to reach for his gun three times. Whether or not Castille was actually doing that, or just reaching behind his back, or moving his arm, Yanez thought he was reaching for his gun. That confusion was likely the reason rather than racism. It’s an OK painting though, even if it bolsters a myth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The man was shot by a police officer in front of a four-year-old girl and her mother. He was pulled over because the office.

      Here is Castile’s last moments:

      “No!” Yanez removed his left arm from the car and fired seven shots in the direction of Castile in rapid succession. Reynolds yelled, “You just killed my boyfriend!” Castile moaned and said, “I wasn’t reaching for it.”

      The man’s last words were “I wasn’t reaching for it”. Your response is, “The painting is OK though, even if it bolsters a myth”

      There is no love in you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Whatever the motivation for making a work of art, no matter how noble or loving, doesn’t guarantee that the result will be better than OK. There’s always a question of skill, talent, experience, and just how well the piece in question comes off.

        Your accusation that “There is no love in you” is expressed in hate.


    2. Your point does not mathematically make sense. You can not name the raw number of people shot by the police. Of course, more white people are shot; they make up a higher percentage of the population. As of 2022, there have been a total of 1,061 deaths by police. 220 of those deaths were Black people and 374 of them were white. In raw numbers, more white people were shot; however, 20.7% of people killed by the police were Black, while only 13.4% of the American population is Black. On the other hand, 35.2% of people killed by the police were white, while 75.8% of the American population is white. Those numbers do not match up, there is a statically higher probability of being killed by a police officer as a Black person than as a white person.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I like that you are willing to investigate the stats. I could have told you that the black population is killed by the police at a higher percentage relative to population. But, the media gives the impression that white people aren’t killed at all by the police, let along in greater numbers than blacks. That would be a revelation for most people. The facts are that when a white person is killed it’s not the kind of click-bait “outrage porn” that gets massive hits and ad revenue. Nobody is interested in that story. If people DID see those deaths by the hands of police as well, they would have a very different feeling about the whole story. The story we are told is that the police kill black men for the crime of being black, and that this is all about white supremacy. And that case is much more persuasive if you don’t see any instances in the media of the police killing white people, which happens more often. Is the issue police brutality or white supremacy? Is it some of each? Which is the bigger issue?

        What’s completely left out of the picture and your analysis in particular is the conditions in which the citizens are killed by the police. What are they doing when it happens? In almost all such incidents the citizens are breaking the law, resisting arrest, and may even pose a potential mortal threat to the police. The surest way to get killed by the police is to NOT put the gun or knife down, and to NOT show your hands. This is not to exonerate the police. Even I’ve had bad experiences with them for the most minor traffic violations, or expired tags. There are outstanding exceptions where law enforcement was clearly overreacting! But we are talking about averages and percentages. The greatest factor in getting killed by the police is a combination of committing a crime and resisting arrest. White collar and corporate crimes are an exception, since the truly rich, powerful, and connected are to a degree above the law regardless of race. Class, you will find, is a bigger issue than race. It is not the rich that are being killed by the police, nor the upper middle class, nor the middle class. It’s the working class and poor.

        Can you imagine that more white people suffer sports injuries when playing golf than blacks, and the inverse is true of basketball? Would you say that this is about racism towards whites on the golf course? No.

        If we are going to be honest, we are going to have to ask which group of people has a statistically higher incident of the type of crimes where the police show up, and which group is statistically more likely to resist arrest or threaten the lives of the police?

        Would you agree with my general impression that white people are prosecuted at a higher rate relative to population for “white collar crime” than are blacks? This would be the case if my guess is correct that there are more white people in stations of power where they can commit white collar crime. And when you arrest someone in their office space – if that were ever to happen – they are not likely armed, going to flee, or physically resist arrest.

        The reality, if you are interested in knowing it, may be that there’s a higher incidents relative to population of black people being killed by the police because there’s a higher percentage of incidents on the street level between black citizens and police, and a greater likelihood of being armed with a deadly weapon, or resisting arrest (the two factors that are overwhelmingly the most likely to get you killed). The underlying reasons for this, such as poverty, drug addiction, the historical effect of racism and the legacy of slavery may explain a lot of it. Even more in the immediate present is the question of class and access to rewarding and fulfilling opportunities. As someone (I think it was a comedian) once put it, rich white kids don’t even need to hold up a liquor store because their allowance is more than the liquor store has on hand.

        We live in a cut-throat oligarchy with a strict class hierarchy. Overwhelmingly the people killed by the police are at the bottom. Racism, historical and present, is not doubt a factor. People who are descendants of plantation owners are probably tens of thousands of times more likely to be financially successful than the descendants of slaves. There is no question about this. However, the descendants of white laborers are also at the bottom of the food chain, only slightly above their black counterparts relative to the 0.1% who have astronomically more money and power. In fact, the middle class in its entirely is only barely above the poor relative to our actual leaders.

        Blacks today face multiple issues that will increase their likelihood of being killed by police. Where they are born alone is a huge factor. How many people are killed by the police who live in Beverly Hills or on Martha’s Vineyard? There are also cultural influences. What are the role models for the most likely victims of police excessive use of force?

        Consider this. The vast majority of people killed by the police are men. Would you say that is because of misandry (sexism against men)? Why not? If we just look at the statistics, as you do with the greater percentage relative to population of blacks being killed by police, we must come to the conclusion that we live in a misandristic world. But that’s not the case. We live in a selfish world, and money is the most important factor.

        The idea that everything is about white supremacy, and white privilege, is a sleight of hand (with some truth) that conveniently makes the (deplorable) working class white person as guilty and culpable for the sins of the oligarchy, including the aristocracy of the antediluvian south, as is the billionaire class. Isn’t that convenient? When we make it all about race, we don’t make it about class, station, money, connections, influence and power.

        There are more women, blacks, and trans people in congress than there are working class people.

        Lastly, if you want my considered opinion, well, we really do need to judge people by what they actually have control over, which is their decisions, action, and behavior (though even that is highly vulnerable to circumstances outside their control). Instead we’ve been back-peddling, ironically in the name of “progress” to judging people by that which they have no control over, which is their biology. What separates humans from most other animals is our higher intelligence, and more importantly still our self-aware consciousness and free will. We all share that, and it is our true most precious gift. As it happens, the idea of a “soul” is a perfect metaphor, though I prefer “spirit” because it is less associated with any individual religion. And so, the only way to really judge a person is by judging their spirit, and there is NO relation between spirit and race.

        In my personal anecdotal experience, including living nearly half my life in non-white countries, and having 2 black managers (as it happens, among my favorite), it’s all about the individual and their choices.

        Obviously in the States blacks have been historically oppressed, subjugated, villainized, brutalized, and treated abominably. The solution, however, is not to place blame on the white working class of today. All people are vulnerable to abuses of power, as well as abusing power if they have access to it. If we want justice, we need to look at people’s individual circumstances and their actions, not what it says on their birth certificates. We need to see people as spirits rather than animals.


      2. Also, if what makes the painting great is the story, and that because of the sociopolitical truth it tells, what is your take on changing the race of the officer to white? How does that improve the story and the value of the painting in your estimation. Why would it be less good of the painting if the officer were painted true to his race?


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