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  • <i>Untitled</i>, ca. 1939–1942

    Untitled, ca. 1939–1942

    The nature of the interactions between Traylor’s figures is often open to interpretation. In this drawing, for example, the couple could be either brawling or dancing. The repeated triangular shapes formed by their limbs unify the composition and lead the eye to see them as a single unit, forever locked together in their encounter. Time seems to stop in Traylor’s drawings, as though he were able to freeze motion through his skillful depiction of human gestures.


    Poster paint, pencil, and colored pencil on cardboard


    High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Mrs. Lindsey Hopkins, Jr., Edith G. and Philip A. Rhodes, and the Members Guild, 1982.97

    Bill Traylor
    Bill Traylor, Untitled [Blue Man on Red Object], ca. 1939-1942. Poster paint and pencil on cardboard, 11 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, purchase with funds from Mrs. Lindsey Hopkins, Jr., Edith G. and Philip A. Rhodes and the Members Guild, 1982.93

    Using modest materials, Bill Traylor created a visual autobiography in which he recorded events from his past as well as his observations of life in Montgomery. Traylor offered his drawings for sale to passersby, but he sold or gave most of his work to Charles Shannon (1914­–1996), a local artist who met Traylor in a chance encounter on a Montgomery sidewalk in 1939. Shannon was immediately engrossed in watching Traylor work and began bringing him poster paint, brushes, drawing pencils, and clean poster board; other admirers brought him crayons and compressed charcoal. Traylor shunned the clean paper, however, because he responded creatively to the irregular shapes of the pieces of cast-off cardboard he found on the street and the smudges, stains, and marks that were deposited on them.

    Preserved by Shannon for approximately forty years, the drawings were reintroduced to an enthusiastic public in the late 1970s and now rank among the most important examples of self-taught art ever created.

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