Thornton Dial: Thoughts on Paper
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Thornton Dial (1928-2016), one of the most important artists in the American South, came to prominence in the late 1980s and was celebrated internationally for his large construction pieces and mixed-media paintings. It was only later, in response to a reviewer's negative comment on his artistic ability, that he began to work on paper. And it was not until recently that these drawings have received the acclaim they deserve. This volume, edited by Bernard L. Herman, offers the first sustained critical attention to Dial's works on paper.
Concentrating on Dial's early drawings, the contributors examine Dial's use of line and color and his recurrent themes of love, lust, and faith. They also discuss the artist's sense of place and history, relate his drawings to his larger works, and explore how his drawing has evolved since its emergence in the early 1990s. Together, the essays investigate questions of creativity and commentary in the work of African American artists and contextualize Dial's works on paper in the body of American art.
The contributors are Cara Zimmerman, Bernard Herman, Glenn Hinson, Juan Logan, and Colin Rhodes.
frames Dial’s interpretations of his art and the forces that guide its making and content. Similarly, Hinson takes on the delicate subject of how and why Dial’s faith has remained unexplored in the critical reception of his work—and how discussions of spiritual belief are all too often constructed in dismissive terms that elide the power and sophistication of the art. Thus Hinson introduces the “fullness of Mr. Dial’s faith” in an argument defined by respect and insight. Together, Rhodes’s
African art. Arnett was introduced to Dial by Lonnie Holley, a younger African American artist already well known in the self-taught scene. The immediate groups to which Dial’s practice was revealed were folklorists and others with interests in self-taught and outsider art. It is unsurprising therefore that Dial’s early exhibition outings and the first critical literature on the artist came from this quarter. He was recognized from the start as important, with early work that was sustained and
3.4).24 As Mr. Dial explains it, when the Lord created the world, He filled it with latent patterns, with connections awaiting 104 Figure . Thornton Dial, God’s Womb (). Enamel and Splash Zone compound on wood. ½ × inches. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Caroline Weiss Law Accessions Endowment Fund, .. discovery and knowledge awaiting its timely emergence. The design was eminently beneficent; all things were created
gallery hosted a show of his work.1 The graphics for the show used a photograph of the artist standing in front of his tin-roofed work shed and studio. That single image in that metropolitan venue far from central Figure . Thornton Dial, Graveyard Alabama served the gallerists well. Without providing a caption that Traveler/Selma contextualized the photograph, they successfully introduced Dial in Bridge (). a manner that defined and limited the reception of his art. Dial, it is Rope
survive and to support her family, Memory of the Ladies That Gave Us the Good Life concerns a larger community of black women and their communal experiences. The works deal with two very different types of women’s labor—in the fields and in the home—but both express and commemorate sacrifice. Dial is not parochial in his interests; he is watching the world stage. The drawing The Last Trip Home and the sculpture Bad Picture (1997–98) explore an episode within popular culture—Princess Diana’s death