"The art of Bill Traylor comes to us with the ghosts of slave ships, lynchings, chain gangs, Jim Crow, justice denied—an American night-story without end. Born in Alabama in 1853, Traylor was 9 years old when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and 12 when slavery was abolished with the 13th Amendment. He bore his owner’s name for life and resided for 55 years near the plantation where he was born; then he moved to nearby Montgomery County, where he remained until his death in 1949.
I first saw Traylor’s work in my 30s, the first time it was nationally exhibited in 1982—and it blew my mind. What struck me is the way he places his characters in space and on the page; I’ve never seen an artist as gifted at having every form firmly inside a drawing. Every person, animal, and structure has this perfect relationship to and conversation with the four sides of the paper.... This isn’t some quaint, 'folksy' art. Traylor is up there with Picasso in this formal regard. (I’ve actually been trying to get Traylor’s art on a U.S. postage stamp; he’s so important—and so distinctively American.)."
Bill Traylor is on view through February 8, 2020 at 34 East 69th Street, New York.
Image: Bill Traylor, Exciting Event (Man on Chair, Man with Rifle, Dog Chasing Girl, Yellow Bird and Other Figures), 1939-1942 (detail). All Bill Traylor artwork is used with permission from Bill Traylor Family, Inc., and The Artistry of Bill Traylor, LLC.