Bill Traylor

Art, Folk art
Bill Traylor, Hunter on Horseback with Spotted Dog, 1939-1942
Photograph: Courtesy The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation and Family Collections and David Zwirner New York/London/Paris Hong Kong

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These days, Bill Traylor (1854–1949) is generally acknowledged as a master of 20th-century art, a reputation made all the remarkable by the fact that he was self-taught. In a life story that has also become somewhat familiar, Traylor was born into slavery and freed by Lincoln to live the hardscrabble existence of an Alabama sharecropper, until, suddenly, something truly astonishing happened: In 1939 he moved to the state capital of Montgomery, where, after a brief stint working in a shoe factory, he picked up a pencil and began to draw on pieces of cardboard. He was 85, and moreover, homeless, using the street as his studio. Between 1939 and 1942, he created some 1,500 pieces populated with figures and animals based on his observations and recollections. Indeed, you might describe the result as a menagerie of memory, since Traylor imparted a fanciful, almost magical, quality to his subjects. But what truly set his work apart was a startlingly modernist style in which man and beast were depicted as abstracted shapes that rivaled Paul Klee and Joan Miró for formal power. Though Traylor exhibited in his lifetime, it wasn’t the 1970s that his genius was finally recognized. This exhibition offers further proof with a selection of Traylor’s renderings from The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation and Family Collections.  



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