New York

Bill Traylor

Gallery Ricco/Maresca Luise Ross Gallery/Hirschl & Adler Modern

Self-taught, African-American artist Bill Traylor (1854–1947), who lived most of his life in Alabama, first as a slave and then as a farmhand, didn’t begin making art until he was 85 years old. Although he was only active between 1939 and ’42, he produced upwards of 1,500 works, mostly in pencil and poster paint on medium-sized pieces of found cardboard. Various twists of fate kept this corpus out of circulation until 1979, and its slow but steady exposure to art audiences since then has made Traylor a kind of cultural thermometer. In the early ’80s, his stark, silhouetted images of animals, people, and abstract constructions were anachronistically viewed as precursors to New Image painting, while today his efforts are being celebrated in the context of multiculturalism.

Although Traylor remained isolated from the developments of high Modernism, and his work evolved sui generic, many of

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