Exceptional Artists of Los Angeles and Philadelphia, Henry Taylor, Branche Coverdale and O’Neil Scott

Our new contributor, Pete Sparber sees work by three Black artists, whose works resonate with him. The artists, Henry Taylor, whose current show is at the Whitney Museum of Art until Jan. 28, 2024; Branche Coverdale, recently at Paradigm Gallery and Studio; and O'Neil Scott, recently at Corridor Contemporary, have kinship with each other in their creation of Black universes that are present as witnesses and celebrants of their culture. Sparber says, "The three artists have taken the temperature of the times, absorbed their surroundings and given us something of power and beauty."

An intense image shows three Black people in closeup, a man in the foreground looking questioningly and directly at you; in the middle, standing straightforward like the first person, a lighter-skinned Black man looks not at you but inward, as if dreaming; and in the background, a woman, eyes wide open, body in profile, looks askance at you, questioningly.
Henry Taylor, i’m yours, 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 73 1/8 × 74 1/4 in. (185.74 × 188.6 cm). Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; acquired through the generosity of the Acquisitions Circle. © Henry Taylor. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photograph by Sam Kahn
A barren street scene shows two Black men in the foreground, with what look like warehouses in the background, and an airplane above looking like it might land on one of the building’s roofs by accident. A police car is seen in the back to the right. It might be passing by or it might be parked.
Henry Taylor, Untitled, 2006. Acrylic on wood panel, 36 × 48 in. (91.4 × 121.9 cm). Collection of Mandy and Cliff Einstein. ©Henry Taylor. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photograph by Robert Bean

I recall reading an interview with Henry Taylor where he talks about spending time with his community and friends. He made a deceptively simple statement that has sunk deep into my thinking about art. “…and I get to paint them.”.

The Whitney Museum of American Art is now devoting a floor to Taylor. There’s a big room in the center that focuses on work from the early 2010’s. The remaining galleries mostly show very recent work, and this is where the painting is most extraordinary.

In the work everything comes together. Distortion, emotion, expression, symbolism, fantasy, naivetéy, composition, color, freshness, simplicity. The work is an explosion of humanity that dominates and jumps off the canvas. In Taylor’s simple statement you can see his process. He is immersed in life, and with mastery and joy he transmutes and paints that humanity.


Taylor leads me to two exceptional young Philadelphia artists.

O’Neil Scott

A painted portrait of a young Black man shows him staring off into the far right distance as if looking into the future, his baseball hat on backwards like a contemporary youth and around his neck is a white accordion-pleat “ruff” worn by men and women pictured in Old Master paintings.
O’Neil Scott, Bridge the Gap. Oil on Panel, 30X30”2020. Photo by the author
A portrait painting shows a Black woman in a yellow tank top wearing black boxing gloves standing in front of an abstract space with black stripes and stars, yellow roses, and a graffiti-like painting in the right of a skeletal boxer stick figure in a corner of a boxing ring.
O’Neil Scott, Fighting for Flowers. Oil on panel, 48”x36”. 2023. Photo by the author

O’Neil Scott, with recent shows at Corridor Contemporary and Villanova University Art Gallery, also brings us in direct contact with his human subjects. They express vision, wisdom, certainty. They live in a landscape of abstracted and referential forms made whole through a fine sensibility of composition and color. They are rendered with the care and technique of a master painter. Where Taylor’s humanity is vibrant and beautiful and rough, Scott approaches humanity through exquisite control. Both artists combine the real and the symbolic without missing a beat.

Branche Coverdale

A painting by Branche Coverdale, depicting a man in a white hoodie and beanie with a beard holding a child in blue jeans and a beige jacket. The skin tones of both people are a deep blue. Both figures hold a solemn and calm face. The man lovingly holds the child. He sits in an area appearing to be a park with a church in it, as an angel looms.
Branche Coverdale, “Father and Daughter,” 30 x 24, acrylic gouache on wood panel. Courtesy of Paradigm Gallery and Studios
A bright and cheerful image shows a rooftop scene with two orange-colored Black women and a child lounging while butterfies flutter and in the background is a line of pink row houses topped with flags and a neon sign for a carwash.
Branche Coverdale, Fuzzy Slippers 36″h x 48”w. acrylic gouache on wood panel. 2021 Photo by the author

Finally, Branche Coverdale, an illustrator and a painter with a recent show at Paradigm Gallery and Studio has brought to life an imaginary city. Looking at Branche’s work I cannot help but think “Where does this come from? How do you invent this?”. In truth the artist has grown and nurtured this city for years. The celebration is so strong it has overwhelmed the forms of the world and created a new world where everything is joy. Contemplating the faces and all the little occurrences of Branche’s work gives us time spent in a very sweet alternate reality.


What I also feel looking at all three is a sense of reverence. Clearly the headwinds and cuts of being Black in America have become the stuff of poetry. The three artists have taken the temperature of the times, absorbed their surroundings and given us something of power and beauty. To do this work you must be deeply in love with your subject. We are richer for their work.

Henry Tayler: The B Side, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, to Jan. 28, 2024.

For further Artblog coverage of Branche Coverdale and Henry Taylor, see
Alex Smith’s “The gleeful anarchy of Henry Taylor’s ‘Nothing Change, Nothing Strange’ at the Fabric Workshop and Museum
Corey Qureshi’s “‘Around the Block,’ Branche Coverdale’s ode to neighborhood life”


About Pete Sparber
Pete Sparber lives, paints, draws and writes about art in Philadelphia. He’s led an eclectic life, living in cities across the US, as well as Tokyo and Shanghai. He holds an MFA from Cornell, a martial arts black belt, and recently ended a career as a senior business executive. He and his wife Karen live in center city, where he publishes The Current, a curated review of Visual Arts in Philadelphia.