Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts
Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts—a documentary about the artist's life and work by Jeffrey Wolf—is opening nationwide in the US on April 16th, 2021. In New York, the film will play at Film Forum.
Born into slavery, Traylor spent much of his life after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation working as a farm laborer in rural Alabama, and, later, as a shoemaker and factory worker in Montgomery. In 1939, at approximately the age of 85, having never previously trained or studied art in any formal way, Traylor began making drawings and works on paper using gouache and other media. Though he continued to make art for the remainder of his life, Traylor was most prolific between 1939 and 1942, creating a body of work that offers a unique and rich registry of his life, experience, and insights. As Kerry James Marshall writes, “By any measure the twelve hundred or so drawings that are the total known output of Bill Traylor’s brilliant but meteoric artistic moment is unprecedented.” Elaborating further, he notes, “I happen to agree with the late philosopher art historian Ernst Gombrich, that ‘great art is rare … but that where we find it we confront a wealth and mastery of resources’ that are transcendent. It would not be a stretch to say that Traylor had mastered his resources, and that the work he made transcended the limitations of his illiteracy.”
Image: Bill Traylor, Exciting Event (Man on Chair, Man with Rifle, Dog Chasing Girl, Yellow Bird and Other Figures), 1939–1942 (detail)