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Traveling exhibition of the work of folk artist Bill Traylor comes to Mingei International Museum
Bill Traylor, Man, Woman, ca. 1940–1942. Watercolor and graphite on cardboard. 14⅛ x 21⅝ inches. Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Charles and Eugenia Shannon, 1982.4.28.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- A traveling exhibition of the work of folk artist Bill Traylor, one of the best-known and most highly esteemed artists from the American south, opened at Mingei International Museum on Saturday, February 9, 2013.

Bill Traylor – Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts features more than 60 of Traylor’s drawings, including human and animal figures in depictions of his memories of plantation life and in the urban landscape in Montgomery, Alabama. Traylor’s drawings feature images in which he often combines several figures with abstract constructions. Although he worked largely in anonymity during his lifetime, Traylor became one of America’s most respected self-taught artists after his exposure to a larger public in the groundbreaking 1982 exhibition “Black Folk Art in America, 1930–1980,” which opened at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. and travelled to four other U.S. cities.

Bill Traylor – Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts premiered at the High Museum in Atlanta in February 2012, before traveling to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee and then Mingei International Museum. The exhibition will also travel to the American Folk Art Museum in New York later in the year.

Traylor, a former slave and plantation field hand, began drawing after he moved to Montgomery and, in a prolific period of art-making in the late 1930s, produced more than 1,200 drawings in graphite pencil, colored pencil, poster paint, charcoal and crayon. Many of his drawings were created on shirt cardboard, cast-off signs and cut-up boxes, the unusual forms of which often influenced his designs. Unanchored by ground lines, his figures float in space. As early as 1939, the pared-down forms of Traylor’s energetic drawings struck a chord with observers accustomed to the formal reductions of modernism, making him one of the first African American vernacular artists to attract the notice of the art establishment in the 20th century. His works are notable for their flat, simply defined shapes and vibrant compositions in which memories and observations relating to African American life are merged.

William Traylor was born into slavery in Lowndes County, near Benton, Alabama, sometime between 1852 and 1856, and was freed by emancipation in 1863. For more than 60 years he worked as a field hand on the plantation where he was born. Around 1935, Traylor moved to the nearby city of Montgomery, where he spent his nights in the back room of a funeral parlor and, later, a shoe repair shop. He spent his days sitting on the city sidewalks, where he drew scenes from both his memories of plantation life and the street life around him. In 1939, he met the painter Charles Shannon. Recognizing Traylor’s talent, the younger artist and his colleagues from the New South cultural center provided Traylor with art supplies and preserved much of his work.

Traylor spent the war years living with his children in the North and returned to Montgomery in 1945, where he resumed drawing. In 1947 he briefly moved in with his daughter in Montgomery, but declining health soon forced him into a nursing home, where he died in 1949. Traylor’s short career was prolific: he produced more than 1,200 works in graphite, colored pencil, poster paint, charcoal and crayon. Traylor’s work has been represented in at least 30 solo exhibitions and 85 group shows since the late 1970s, and he is now recognized as one of the finest American artists of the 20th century.

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