Bill Traylor was born into slavery on a plantation in the heart of Alabama. After the American Civil War he gained his freedom but remained a field-hand at the same plantation. At the age of 84, no longer able to work, Traylor went to live in the city of Montgomery, where he began to draw vignettes of life on the street where he sat every day, as well as memories of his experiences on the plantation. In 1939 he came to the attention of local artist Charles Shannon, who befriended him, provided him with poster paints, brushes and paper, and later promoted his work extensively. Rather than using Shannon’s materials, Traylor favoured his simple pencil stubs and straight-edged stick, working on the backs of printed-cardboard advertisements. He did, however, take up using poster paint, especially the colour blue, which became one of his signature elements. His silhouetted images are stark, with no ornamentation. He drew either simple one-figure compositions, or pictures with groups of figures, often composed around a central form. Taylor’s flat imagery, use of space and complex compositions make his drawings echo African and ancient imagery. He left behind 1,500 works, all produced during a brief creative period.
Caption: Man and Woman Interacting, 1939–41, courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery