May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Untitled (Figures and Construction with Blue Border)

Bill Traylor (c. 1854-1949) Guides

Montgomery, Alabama

c. 1941

Poster paint and pencil on cardboard

15 1/2 x 8"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Charles and Eugenia Shannon, 1991.34.1

Photo by John Parnell

Untitled (Figures and Construction with Blue Border)

How do we interpret the central visual axis in twenty similar works by Bill Traylor, around which animals and figures chase one another when not falling into empty space? Is this structure the public fountain from the everyday landscape of the artist, or a life-threatening statement that conjures up, all at once, the darkness of crucifixion (crosses), the brutality of lynchings (gallows), and the miseries of slavery (cotton presses)? Beyond his pictures, Traylor left few records of his own thoughts. As explored in the 2013 American Folk Art Museum exhibition Traylor in Motion: Wonders from New York Collections, each work is more than an isolated incident—on the contrary, they respond to each other, and form the sequences of a personal cinema. Instead of being merely a basic depiction, the subject becomes a visual statement structuring Traylor’s mind, bringing together hidden symbols from Kongo Vodou, Hoodoo, Southern Baptist, Freemasonry, and blues sources, as well as layers of references: slavery, uncensored violence in the Jim Crow era, and turbulence within the black enclave known as “Dark Town” in Montgomery.

Valérie Rousseau, “Untitled (Figures and Construction with Blue Border),” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.