First published: Summer 2003
Thornton Dial’s powerful, expressive paintings, drawings, and mixed media sculptures reveal a strong personal vision, equaled by few other contemporary artists, whether mainstream or vernacular. But, as a minimally-educated, working class, black man, Dial’s creativity and artistic vision are also firmly rooted in the experience of the American South – a background he shares with many of the most inventive self-taught artists.
Indeed, throughout the twentieth century, no region of the United States has offered a more fertile ground for self-taught art than the South. Whether during the first half of the century, when the South lagged economically and promoted a form of apartheid, or in the more modern prosperous ‘new’ South that is in many ways indistinguishable from the rest of the nation, Southern culture both embodies yet also opposes the dominant culture of the nation.