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Thornton Dial, Ground Zero: Decorating the Eye, 2002, clothing, enamel, spray paint, and epoxy on canvas, 76 1/2 x 108 x 4". © Estate of Thornton Dial.

Thornton Dial

David Lewis

Thornton Dial, Ground Zero: Decorating the Eye, 2002, clothing, enamel, spray paint, and epoxy on canvas, 76 1/2 x 108 x 4". © Estate of Thornton Dial.

“Mr. Dial’s America,” the second gallery exhibition of Thornton Dial’s work since his death in 2016 at the age of eighty-seven, included seven paintings dated between 1990 and 2011, as well as a freestanding sculpture, The Top of the World, 1998. Dial is often referred to as an outsider, or self-taught artist, and while it is understandable why commentators resort to such handy but potentially misleading labels, this exhibition made the best possible case for seeing Dial as, simply, an artist of his time, with no need for further qualification. Like most artists, Dial considered art itself as his teacher, “a guide for every person who is looking for something. That’s how I can describe myself: Mr. Dial is a man looking for something.”

Dial’s search took him far. His stylistic reach was unusual; he did not repeat himself. He came to art—already in his fifties—with significant

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