The Age - Art/Culture Article
Words by Jenny Valentish

"How coloured pencils at the restaurant table shaped Australia’s new queen of kitsch"

The young Ginger Taylor saw cartoons everywhere, as though she was living in her favourite film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Her father, Deane Taylor, was an animator for Hanna-Barbera, working on Yogi BearThe Jetsons and The Flintstones, before moving on to the ’90s slapstick mayhem of The Ren & Stimpy Show and Cow & Chicken. Taylor’s mother was a costume designer. Dedication to the craft meant the family preferred to eat out than cook

Artist Ginger Taylor in her studio.

“My dad would bring pens and paper, and I’d always draw the food but make them into little characters,” Taylor says, from her art studio in Coburg. “Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever put two and two together till now, but I’ve always drawn women and food. Jessica Rabbit was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen!”

Taylor is gaining a global reputation for her kitsch cartoon merchandise and prints. The first T-shirt design she sold was “Dolly ’Til I Die”, depicting Dolly Parton in her highest-hair phase. Another merchandise hit – on pins, prints and air fresheners – is Cher, with her famous “I AM a rich man” quote (in response to the singer’s mother asking why she didn’t find a rich man). Then there are the many food items, among them the “Breaky Club” mug, with breakfast items bearing faces on a backdrop of blue gingham; and the Howdy Pickle keyring – a jaunty fellow wearing a cowboy hat – has become a popular tattoo flash.

The strong Americana slant – a nod to mid-century diners, motels and country and western – can be put down to Taylor moving to California when her father was art director on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. She suspects cartoons provided the same kind of escapism for Deane – who grew up in the tough Adelaide neighbourhood of Elizabeth – as they do for her.

“I’m diagnosed with a panic disorder, but I find if I’m trying to calm myself down or escape from reality, I can just put on cartoons,” she says. Even her ADHD gets anthropomorphised – Taylor made a print that quickly sold out, depicting the disorder as an irritating kind of buddy.

“That’s exactly how I view it,” she says. “I guess it’s like journaling, but I’m not very good at writing so it comes out in a visual way.”

Taylor is dyslexic, but at school she had a gang who liked to draw in the art room every lunchtime. Even so, one teacher told her she’d never be an artist.

“Schooling was different back then,” she says. “If I said I didn’t understand something in class, I’d get shut down, which is probably why I try and spread the good word through visuals – because I know how badly I needed that.”

But mundane jobs can be a breeding ground for creativity. As William Hanna (of Hanna-Barbera fame) said: “I started out with three creative jobs – painter, janitor and gag writer.”

Ginger Taylor’s studio.

When Taylor got a job at JB Hi-Fi, she fell into signwriting, winning competitions and getting headhunted by other stores. That proliferated into signwriting and murals around Sydney’s Newtown. Moving to Melbourne, her business grew from share-house kitchen table to a studio with two employees, without ever borrowing money – not even from the bank of mum and dad. Taylor embodies the plucky underdog trope beloved by cartoonists from time immemorial.

Every two months, she has a stall at the Coburg Makers Market and she is working towards opening her first shop, in Thornbury. In May she launched her winter collection, “Satan Bless You”, of tracksuits, hoodies and other merch. A kids’ kitchenware range is in the works, and in October an exhibition will run at Honey Bones Gallery in Brunswick.

When she needs to unwind from all that, Taylor zones into The Cuphead Show! on Netflix, which pays homage to the “rubber hose” style of the 1920s; named for the flailing black limbs of its characters.

“I remember the first time I went to Disneyland and realised that life can be turned into a cartoon, and that it doesn’t all have to be – you know – ‘normal’,” Taylor says. “That was a revelation. I realised the inside of my brain does exist in the outside world.”