Parachute cords and fluorescent nylon arborist rope – the same kind used by mountaineers – wrap around the rosy throat of Islay Taylor like a brilliant collar, a tiered necklace of a most unusual kind. This complex creation made with non-traditional materials is the subject of one of Islay’s recent Instagram posts and represents her recent jewelry collection, currently in-progress.
“I’ve been working on this stuff [but] I don’t really know what it is yet… it’s necklaces and jewelry made out of unexpected materials, which is a common thread in my work,” explains the native Rhode Islander from inside her West Side studio.
Islay’s contemporary artwork is meant to adorn the physical form, but she began her career pursuing a degree in graphic design from Alfred University. “It turns out I really hated being in a computer lab – quiet and working on this two dimensional screen – so switching my focus to sculpture and printmaking was a reaction to that,” she says, detailing why she eventually changed majors.
“[Sculpture is] dirty – all of it is really dirty – and that’s the kind of environment I like to be in.”
After graduating in 2002, Islay returned to Rhode Island where she experimented with creating smaller sculptural items that were designed to be worn. “At the time, being a sculptor really wasn’t viable given my small studio situation in South County, so I took classes at RISD continuing education in jewelry,” she recalls. “It’s a perfect downscaling of sculpture and printmaking and many of the processes are the same. Instead of putting things on a pedestal or in a gallery, it’s going on the body and out into the world.”
Islay’s skill with material manipulation makes for visually evocative and compelling work, so much so that her bracelets, necklaces, earrings, knuckle dusters and other varieties of flauntable items feel like they belong on the walls of a gallery. Whether it be her brass plated rings with hand-painted acrylic nails set in the center featured in the pages of Vogue Italia, or her Natural History collection presented last year at AS220 featuring designs reminiscent of traditional accoutrements found in indigenous cultures, each piece is a work of art, in and of itself.
“[That show] was very much all organic materials – hair, metal, feathers,” Islay explains while fingering some of her older pieces inspired by the work of photojournalist Jimmy Nelson. “Now I want to take the organic out of it because, let’s be real, I’m not someone living in a rainforest making things out of parrot feathers. I’m someone from Rhode Island. I wanted it to be truer to where I am now.”
Beads of various shapes and colors and thick nylon strings decorate her workspace and offer insight into what the artist has planned for herself over the next few months. It generally takes 40 hours to complete a single piece and Islay will remake something repeatedly until she feels comfortable with it. “It frustrates people – my boyfriend and I get into fights over it,” she says laughing. She hopes to have her next collection, about nine pieces or so, finished by springtime.
“The jewelry makers I appreciate the most are those who are reflecting their environment,” says Islay. “The people who are observing the world around them and using that in their creative process.”
When she’s not immersed in a semi-meditative state for her detail-oriented creative processes, Islay takes on an administrative role as Program Director at The Steel Yard, an industrial art non-profit based in Providence. Not only does the Steel Yard offer courses in blacksmithing, ceramics and metal casting, they also do job training in welding and hope to launch a similar program in jewelry.
“It would be a stipend opportunity for Rhode Islanders who are living at or below the poverty line,” she explains.
If owning a piece of Islay’s one-of-a-kind wearable fine art piques your interest, the artist is accessible online via her website. Although she rarely does custom items, past work may be still be available for purchase. But rest assured, this prolific artist is continually looking to the future, so there’s always the promise of something new right around the corner.