“Art is like a bright star up ahead in the darkness of the world… a guide for every person who is looking for something.”
Wise words, spoken from the heart by one of America’s greatest artists, Thornton Dial, who died this week at 87 years old. A self taught African American artist, Dial spent most of his professional life as a metal worker and created art in his back yard, in poverty and relative obscurity, until he was ‘discovered’ by the Atlanta folk art collector William Arnett at the age of 62.
By the mid nineties, Dial’s work was being shown in museums and galleries around the world and his reputation slowly grew, particularly among students and admirers of American folk artists. His work is now in the collections of major museums and he is widely regarded as one of the most important artists to emerge in the US during the second half of the twentieth century.
His work is complex, masterful, inspirational and intricate, and it pushes boundaries, raises uncomfortable issues and touches our hearts. He is at once “self taught” and a true master of his craft who will continue to blur the lines, categories and pigeonholes of the art world even though his time with us on the planet is over.
To dive deeper (which all of you should) check out this Studio360 podcast, this celebration of Dial’s life and work on hyperallergic, a fascinating article in the New Yorker about the complicated relationship between Dial, Arnett (his largest collector and champion) and the art world at large, and what I like to call the “official” obituary in the New York Times.