Permissible Beauty

Permissible Beauty uses the power of portraiture to explore notions of beauty, from a black queer point of view, but with generous universal relevance. It comprises an 8 week immersive installation at Hampton Court Palace (starting 14 January 2023 and running until 12 March 2023), and a short art film that will tour the international film festival circuit before general release later in 2023.

The project was launched at Hampton Court Palace on Friday 13th January with an exuberant event featuring the official premier of the project’s film, a musical introduction to the project’s six portrait subjects by David McAlmont on fine form as an inspired cheerleader, followed by a joyful celebratory reception.

The already joyously delicious cake was iced by a very positive review from the Guardian later that day:

A further exciting development has been the inclusion of the Permissible Beauty film in the major Wellcome Collection blockbuster exhibition THE CULT OF BEAUTY. Our film can be seen – free – twice and hour, every day (except Mondays) in its own temporary mini cinema until 28 April 2023.

183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE



(A summary of Robert Taylor’s contribution to an exhibition  commissioned by Queer Britain (a new LGBT + history project) , celebrating the phenomenon of chosen families in the LGBT+ community, sponsored by Levi Strauss, as part of a larger celebration of Pride Month in London.)

Gay men are often resourceful emotional ecologists. Hating to waste all the good stuff discovered, created and honed during attempted romantic relationships, we are pretty good at finding ways to stay meaningfully in each others lives, even as we court new princes. I’ve enjoyed witnessing various flavours of connection between these four gay men for over 30 years.

The word family has often had challenging connotations and associations for queer folk. These four men have definitely appropriated and detoxified it for their own purposes.

(L-R David, Lorne, Bill and Kenny)

The Family of Four 2002 – present

Bill’s been the family anchor, and his flat, a haven to all of them at different times. They flourish together amidst complex shared and overlapping narratives, loving, supporting, challenging and amusing each other. I’ve been encountering at least 3 and often all 4 of them together for over 30 years, in all sorts of social situations. Creativity and nurturing are the key family traits: Bill Wilcox (artist, photographer, linguist, mentor/educator and social activist), Lorne Burrell (sculptor/artist and erstwhile model), David McAlmont (singer, songwriter, art historian, queer historian and DJ), and Kenny Clay (teacher, astrologer and sometime massage therapist)

Bill and Lorne

Bill and Lorne 1982 – present

Although lovers briefly, their connection really blossomed with Bill becoming the benign mentoring mother to Lornes flamboyant fiery daughter. One of their most poignant and fruitful joint enterprises manifested in the creation of FUSION, a multi cultural gay men’s social group that flourished in the 1980/90s, with an informal side project of offering emotional and practical support to men struggling with the then often fatal diagnosis of HIV/Aids, even though navigating their own positive diagnoses. They now thrive in the era of combination therapies, with Lorne’s late bloom under Bills watchful eye – as a talented sculptor, and Bill, a keen photographer.

Bill and David

Bill and David 1989 – present

They were lovers for a couple of years, but flourished as a household for 15 years after that. David’s biological father left home when he was 6. Bill inhabited some of the lingering gap, fertilizing and nurturing David’s passion for art, music, film, and pretty much all the gay sympathetic realms of expression stamped on by his religious Guyanese biological family. David has thrived and soared as a highly respected musician and arts warrior, crafting a unique career combining his many interests, to the delight of various cultural tribes. These days Bill and David function more as younger and older brother than father and son.

David and Lorne

David and Lorne 1989 – present

Lorne has always felt very protective of Bill, so he was initially wary of David, the bright young thing suddenly erupting into Bill’s world. David and Lorne were both very close to Bill, and – in their very different ways great performative stylists, so there were always going to be frictions and competition. There were years of tensions and sibling bickering before their relationship eventually settled to that of supportive loving sisters. They shared a home for a while recently. They are both very busy with their respective creative endeavours, never very far from Bills gentle watchful eye.

David and Kenny

David and Kenny 2002 – present

They were lovers for 11 years, then carried on as companions, with sporadic hints of the maternal from Kenny in response to Davids occasional diva moments. They have always enjoyed a deep and intimate intellectual connection, sometimes straying into astrological and astrological realms. They’ve seen each other through myriad highs, lows and demanding enterprises. A recent manifestation was Kennys supportive role during Davids second wave of higher education in fine art history. Their peaceful shared home life was a fine setting for David to step back from the mania of the music industry to enrich and reorient his world view.

The term ‘FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE’ is a playful reference to the LGBT community’s capacity for creating it’s own solutions.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of same sex activity, and LGBT History Month 2017

Other Heroes

An exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of same sex activity, and LGBT History Month 2017

collage Trinsent

I was commissioned by Pinsent Masons, a large international law firm, to create a collection of portraits of 24 members of the LGBT community in the UK who have played an important part in LGBT history – in parliament, the law, the arts or more generally – but who do not always receive the recognition they deserve. Each portrait is accompanied by a short first person text.



The portraits and texts were displayed prominently in the foyer of their London HQ to mark

LGBT History Month, and the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality,

and Pinsent Masons’ recent ranking as the second highest employer in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index

in England, Wales and Scotland.

You can sample the portraits and texts in the pdf by clicking the link here

(please note this document is a 7MB pdf)

Pinsent Mason LGBT History






Celebrating Black History Month.

As part of their ongoing diversity programme, Pinsent Mason*, a large international law firm, asked me to create an exhibition of portraits drawn from my portfolio of successful black people:

Portraits of Achievement – a selection of portraits created between 2000 – 2014, celebrating the achievements of people of African and Caribbean descent.

The portraits are displayed with extended captions listing some the key achievements of each of the subjects

To see the texts and the portraits click here Robert Taylor Black History Month Exhibition (pdf)

The Background

In 2001 Jacqui Macdonald, the then Head of Staff and Organisational Development at London University’s Institute of Education conducted a study that challenged stereotypes of black underachievement by telling the stories of 72 black men and women who have risen to the top in contemporary Britain. The study was published as a book called Portraits of Black Achievement: Composing Successful Careers (Published by Lifetime Careers). It was centred on a series of interviews with black professionals in fields including politics, medicine, law, education and the arts. The interviewees described their life experiences and talked about what it meant to be a successful black professional. Each interview was accompanied by a photo portrait by Robert Taylor.

I’ve been creating collections of portraits for over 25 years. Recent commissions include an extended collection of women celebrated for their excellence in the fields of science, engineering and technology, and most recently, two large collections for an Oxford University college. 14 of the 28 portraits in the Pinsent Mason display are drawn from Jacqui Macdonald’s project, the remainder are from a variety of commissions between 2002 and 2014.

* 30 Crown Place, Earl Street. London EC2A 4ES

Remembrance, death, and belonging, from an Afro-Caribbean Perspective

On the 1st November The RAF Museum at Hendon will launch an exhibition about airmen of African and Caribbean Heritage who have served in the British Royal Air Force.  I am  interviewed in the film loop.

click here



In 2005 I co-produced an exhibition of photographs and texts about Bereavement called LIGHT AFTER DEATH. One of the 28 items in the exhibition was a reflection on war memorials from a New Commonwealth Afro-Caribbean  perspective:


Poppy on Kente Cloth

(Kente is an Asante ceremonial hand-woven cloth from Ghana)

Every November on Remembrance Sunday special services are held at war memorials and churches all over Britain. A national ceremony takes place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, in memory of the men and women who were killed during the two World Wars and other conflicts.

I served in the Royal Air Force in the 1970s. Over twenty years later, quite by chance, I met some West Indian World War ll Army veterans at a tiny exhibition at the Imperial War Museum about the African, Asian and West Indian contributions to the British war effort. One of the men had served in the British army during World War Two with my late Jamaican grandfather. When they found out about my military past they insisted that I join them at the Cenotaph in Whitehall at the next Remembrance Sunday ceremony.

Before that time I had never given much thought to the sacrifices of those killed in conflict and had certainly never thought of marching down Whitehall as part of a contingent of black ex-servicemen. I attended Quaker Meetings for many years, and now tend towards pacifism. What on earth would I be doing there? I was finally persuaded when they made it clear that it was really important for them that there was the possibility of a continued black presence at these kinds of events after they had died. They were worried in case people forgot that the fight against Hitler and all that he stood for was won with the help of all sorts of people who didn’t fit the stereotype of the brave white war hero depicted in film, fiction and documentary.

To my great surprise and relief we got a very warm welcome from massed the crowds as we marched around the streets of Whitehall. I felt immensely proud, very emotional and powerfully present to the memory of my late grandfather and his distinguished war service.

RAF Swinderby

Robert Taylor at his RAF passing out parade in 1975



Art, Science, and Ignorance

Nina edge

Nina edge

Nina Edge in her installation “Vitual Duality” (photo 1994, ICA commission)

I’m a photographer. I create portraits, and abstract/experimental images based on the human body. Some say I fit comfortably within the range of arty stereotypes. My partner of the last 19 years is an Oxford University academic who definitely conforms to some of the stereotypes of the geeky scientist.

People are often surprised that we’ve thrived as a couple for so long. To some, our relationship seems unlikely, reflecting the supposed gulf between scientists and the rest of society. Scientists are supposed to think, communicate and behave quite differently to the rest of us.


A recent experience forced me to question the extent and significance of this gulf. I’ve just returned from a trip to the old university town of Leuven in Belgium. My partner, a respected scientist specializing in pheromones, was invited to give a TEDx talk (TED stands for Technology, Education and Design. TEDx talks are organized under the auspices of the non-profit TED foundation which has the slogan “ideas worth spreading”.)

The challenge for speakers at the Leuven TEDx event  – all eminent research scientists – was to craft and deliver talks related to their areas of expertise, but with a largely civilian (non-specialists and non-scientists) audience in mind. Successful TED talks tend to be less about hard knowledge per se, and more about inspiring, challenging and entertaining an audience, by presenting fresh new ideas about the world and how we experience it.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the subject matter of some of the talks. In their different ways several of the speakers challenged my most basic assumptions about what science is, and what being a scientist is about.

The outstanding talk for me (apart from my partner’s of course) was given by Professor Stuart Firestein, intriguingly entitled “Celebrating Ignorance”. He is a Professor in Biological Sciences at Columbia University, New York.

His talk took a wry look at conventional notions of knowledge, fact and the scientific process. Generally we think of science as an orderly phenomenon – a collection of proven facts about the world. Professor Stuart does not see real science as like that at all. In his experience, few research scientists use a formal scientific method. He sees successful scientific research as often being as much about farting around in the dark as engaging in a rational definitive process.

This much fuzzier reality occurred to him as he reflected on his dual role as a professor (teacher), and investigator (research scientist). He teaches a lecture course based on a hugely comprehensive and highly respected text book that purports to impart a lot of knowledge about the human brain. He was concerned that some of his students might be left with a mistaken impression that mastering its text would amount to knowing all there is to know about the human brain.

At the same time, in his research lab, he, his students and colleagues often stumble around and come up with interesting questions, in an open ended process he often finds exhilarating. He also noticed that even when scientists were gathered more spontaneously, away from their labs etc. they tended to talk as much about what they didn’t know – about all the open questions and problems they were facing – as what they did.

He has seen this phenomenon as important enough to warrant a new university course and book, about ignorance. Of course, he’s not talking about the bad or negative model of ignorance that carries connotations of wilful denial of incontrovertible facts, rampant prejudice etc. He’s interested in the more fascinating kind of ignorance described by J.C. Maxwell, the distinguished 19th century theoretical physicist: “Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science.” George Bernard Shaw put it even more bluntly ”Science is always wrong. It never solves a problem without creating 10 more.

Science is much more than just an ever accumulating amount of clear and reliable facts or information. The purpose of knowing a lot of stuff isn’t just to know a lot of stuff, it’s to be able to frame ever more thoughtful, interesting questions. Knowledge leads us to higher-quality ignorance.

Returning to the great art/science divide, supposedly reflected in my relationship with my partner. It turns out that we have more in common than I’d previously considered.  In our respective working lives we’re both exploring, asking questions, never quite arriving, but enjoying a fascinating ride en route. Imagination and creativity are important to both of us. We are both wrestling with difficult questions that matter to us, and we both need to be creative in the ways we go about it, and communicate about it.

Perhaps I was not as brave in choosing to share my life with a scientist as it might seem. As I remember it, very early on, my partner appealed directly to my vanity by declaring that he’d already encountered and enjoyed my photography, long before we first met each. Does this prove that scientists can have impeccable artistic taste?