Thornton Dial was born to a poor family in Emelle, rural Alabama. He was expected to work from an early age to support his unmarried mother, who he had moved away from at the age of three, living with his second cousin. Having received minimal education, he worked tirelessly at many jobs until his retirement at the age of 55. Dial admits that although he produced artwork before this time, it was only when he stopped work that he could focus all his attention on his passion. This was partly due to his early lack of confidence in his creative abilities. He said of his retirement, “I didn’t have no real job, so I made a job of art.” Many of his pictures and sculptures are put together using old scraps, tin, found wood, wire and layers of waste paint. He takes inspiration from everything, from animals and scenes of everyday life, right through to commentaries on the political and social situation in America today and the position of African Americans within it. Dial’s compositions range from simple and delicate drawings to dramatic and dark paintings which are typically large-scale powerful creations with a strong use of colour and fluid forms, often with additional pieces attached to the canvas to create dramatic assemblages.


Caption: Blue Lady and Gorilla Man and the Tiger Along for the Ride, c. 1992, courtesy Gordon W. Bailey


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