“Dial's life is inseparable from history because he made it his business as an artist to be a historian. Dial lived history, then he represented it.” - John Beardsley
Bill Lowe Gallery presents a selection of works by octogenarian artistic giant Thornton Dial. Dial’s much-heralded retrospective,
Hard Truths, travelled from Indianapolis to New Orleans, Charlotte and on to Atlanta, and attracted potent critical and curatorial support around the world, adding powerful momentum to Dial’s trajectory and his status in the global arena.
Time Magazine devoted a five-page story to this breathtaking exhibition,
the New York Times gave him a full-page glowing review and
CNN featured him in a segment that commented upon his new-found status as the peer of Kieffer, Pollock, De Kooning and Rauschenberg. The
Wall Street Journal
added another remarkable accolade for Hard Truths by picking it as one of the five (5) most important art exhibits in America in 2011.
Now 84-years-old, Dial’s most recent art will be juxtaposed with principal earlier pieces (1989-1994), allowing viewers insight into the evolution of his artistic vocabulary. Dial’s new work retains its characteristic dense configuration of materials – largely collected from the detritus of our culture and nature – while depicting a transformation to elegantly subdued palettes that reflect themes more open to interpretation. This generation of work transcends the narratives of his powerful earlier work and universalizes Dial’s voice, further cementing his place in art history.
As a schoolboy, rather than pay attention in class, Thornton Dial spent hours making small drawings of Tarzan in the jungle or cowboys on the range, or fashioning small cars and wagons from found matchboxes, twine and sticks. But the art he made, especially at first, was always on the side, a pleasure he discovered in moments stolen from the reality of his days growing up on a cornfield in Emelle, Alabama. Rather than consider himself a tortured creator—toiling alone in relative anonymity—Dial has always been a working man, devoting most of his 80-some years to picking cotton, pouring iron, loading bricks, painting houses, and raising animals - always and invariably using his hands and body to create things in the world.
His life has been one of quiet observation and imagined escape, and in his modest sketches or sprawling assemblages he knits his dreams and aspirations with poignant perceptions of the world around him, expressing its sufferings, joys, and hypocrisies in equal measure. Back Home (2012)—a dynamic medley of shattered bits of wood, torn swaths of denim, sharp nails, and rusty metal gate hinges—coalesces into a shanty on the brink of collapse, silhouetted by swirling red storm clouds, throbs with life despite its unassuming materials. It suggests at once a haven and a hell, a sense of home that is tortured and roiled by what lies beyond it, be that fame, the demands of commerce, or the continued repression of the African American in our country, a theme to which Dial has repeatedly returned, through allegory and symbol.
Despite his stunning success (he has had retrospectives across the country and his works fetch great sums), Dial continues to make art that acknowledges and is shaped by his experience between things, his life spent just on the other side—of resources, of acceptance, of sophistication. It is that distance that gives his perceptions their power. His assemblages are expressionistic in the broadest sense of the word, modeled by gesture and intuition, vibrant and roughly hewn. But they are, as well, embedded with considered significance and suffused with a sense of history, both personal and universal. They straddle the figurative and abstract, coming together in moments to represent, and then whirling and seething frantically into an intelligibility: a raw, absorbing conglomeration of texture, form and color.