From the essay by Phil Patton on the iconic folk artist:
What red was to Titian, yellow to Van Gogh, a high singing blue was to Bill Traylor. The blue of his drinking figures, of his houses, of his abstract constructions is “showcard blue,” “cobalt blue,” the same blue those who grew up in the American South remember from the hand painted signs in the window of the local grocery stores, advertising specials–“yams 15 cents/pound.”
This blue is electric–like the urbanized blues of the electric guitar, its brightness a miracle of modern technology. It is not the faded blue of indigo, weathered and worn–of the overalls in which Traylor had spent most of the eighty four years before he began painting, as a slave and sharecropper. But it is the blue of the musical blues.
…What drew Traylor to blue? The artist Charles Shannon, who discovered Traylor drawing and painting on Monroe Street in Montgomery in 1938, supplied him with that blue paint. But Shannon also provided paints of other colors and papers and brushes to supplement Traylor’s original pencil stub and straight edged stick. Of these, Traylor chose the blue, and the occasional red, keeping his palette lean as the chickens and mules he drew, and resorted to no more elegant painting surfaces than the back sides of shirt card boards and ads for Baby Ruth and Snickers candy. Traylor painted Black Horse on the back of a poster advertising a Negro American League baseball game between the Birmingham Black Barons and Cleveland Bears.
From the Publisher. Bill Traylor has become an almost mythical figure in the history of American folk art. Born into slavery in 1854, he began to draw only at the age of 82 in 1939, when he moved from the plantation where he was born to Montgomery, Alabama. From his observations on Montgomery’s Monroe Avenue and his memories of his life on the plantation, he created his own original pictorial world. This book presents not only Traylor’s compellingly naive drawings but also fascinating documentary photographs that reveal the daily life of southern blacks—in particular Traylor and his milieu. They tell the story of his many years as a poor and illiterate agricultural laborer; his extraordinary foray into the creation of art; his discovery by Charles Shannon, a white artist from the North; and his largely posthumous fame. They explore the relationship of his energetic pictures to African-American music, showing how his images pulse with the sensation of a live blues concert. And they discuss the economic depression and race relations in Alabama during Traylor’s time in Montgomery in the 1930s and 1940s.
Phil Patton’s essay, “High Singing Blue,” first appeared in the 1997 book of the same name.
Phil’s article, “Art by the Dozen: 99-Cent Store Paintings”, critiques and celebrates the oil paintings sold in dollar stores, painted in assembly-line fashion, and collected for pennies The series of artbooks examines comic book and wider art.
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