Bill Traylor


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Draftsman. Illiterate, untrained as an artist, born into slavery, and indigent in old age, he focused on his art only after he had reached his eighties. Mostly between 1939 and 1942 he turned out a striking body of energetic, whimsical drawings in pencil and poster paints on paper or cardboard. Born on a plantation near Benton, Alabama, he remained a sharecropper there until the late 1930s when he moved to Montgomery. A lack of technical sophistication suited his offbeat imagination. Blithely ignoring anatomy, perspective, and other conventions, Traylor represented people and animals, together with occasional objects, as flat patterns. Often sporting hats or other distinctive accoutrements, his lively, pictographic characters flicker vigorously across the surfaces of such works as the typically whimsical Dancing Man, Woman and Dog (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1939–42). Two figures with cartoony faces and big hair, along with an excited pet, animatedly jitterbug with animal abandon. No work is known from the four years after he moved to Washington, D.C., in 1942. There he soon lost a leg to amputation. After visiting children in other northern cities, he returned permanently to Montgomery. Although he resumed art making, his health was deteriorating. The work of these last years was of diminished quality and little survives.

Subjects: Art.

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