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.
accords him centrally important status in the former fields. Additionally, identification as outsider or vernacular implicates an artist in a market whose prices are much lower, so that even canonical status in that world ensures low ceilings relative even to minor contemporary art stars. Intriguingly, Amiri Baraka sees this as part of Dial’s (unwitting) challenge: “There is . . . a real fear that this art, brought into the mainstream en masse, would compromise the goofy price structure of the
grandmother (who had raised him since shortly after his birth), when the young Dial moved to urban Bessemer to live with his mater- 100 nal grandmother’s sister, Sarah Dial Lockett, and her husband, Dave Lockett. Like Mr. Dial’s great-grandmother, the Locketts were dedicated churchgoers and engaged believers; Mr. Lockett was a deacon (as well as a singer in, and manager of, a gospel quartet), while Ms. Lockett taught Sunday school. Right away, the twelve-year-old Dial began attending Antioch
African Americas (New York: Museum for African Art, 1993). Thompson’s students have elaborated and extended his arguments in their own scholarly work; see particularly Maude Southwell Wahlman’s “African Charm Traditions Remembered in the Arts of the Americas,” in Self-Taught Art: The Culture and Aesthetics of American Vernacular Art, ed. Charles Russell (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 146–65; and Signs and Symbols: African Images in African American Quilts (Atlanta: Tinwood
pressing the birds, and all their associations with nesting and family, to the margins. By way of contrast, the woman in this drawing and others, like Life Go On (1990) (plate 18), seems tied down, with an almost palpable heaviness of line. Her hair is filled in, her nose and eyes are weighted down. In one context, that heaviness may be tied to a moment of feminine thoughtfulness. The differences between the way Dial renders women and how he presents the tiger are pronounced. The women are heavy,
eternal cycle of birth and life. For Dial, Life Go On is about coping with vulnerability and power, opportunity and disenfranchisement, endurance and resistance. There are alternative critical perspectives for addressing Dial’s early works on paper. These perspectives provide us with ways of seeing the drawings not necessarily as Dial sees them but within contexts that connect us to the instrumentality or narrative operations embedded in Dial’s art. Two ideas, one drawn from histories of food and