artists

Thornton Dial

Born 1928, Emelle, AL

Born in a cornfield to an unwed teenage mother, Dial grew up in rural Emelle, in Alabama's western flatlands. He began full-time farm work at age five and managed to attend school only rarely. On the eve of World War II, he was sent to live with relatives in Bessemer, just outside Birmingham. There, he married, raised a family, and worked for half a century in heavy industry, building highways, houses and ultimately boxcars during a thirty-year stint at the Pullman Standard Plant.

Dial's life encompasses many of the most consequential episodes in twentieth-century African-American life - sharecropping in the Black Belt, migration from country to city, the upheaval of the civil rights era, and the ethnic conundrums of a rapidly changing postmodern America. As John Beardsley writes, "Dial's life is inseparable from history, because he had made it his business as an artist to be a historian. Dial lived history, then he represented it in paintings and sculptures.

From childhood on, Dial built "things" using whatever he could salvage, recycling even his own work to reuse materials in new creations. Dial referred to what he made only as "things," though late in life he found out that others call them "art." Having developed during the era of racial segregation, Dial's style is both personal and culturally rich, and it speaks with a resolute voice that was denied him through the years as a black factory worker.

In Dial's art, intense surfaces, multilayered narratives, shifting compositional relationships, and a metaphysical concern with issues of recycling and ancestry exist hand in hand with an ironic, earthy wit and an almost religious determination to make art's complexities and mysteries central to the human understanding of reality.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2014
Thornton Dial, Independent Projects, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York

2013
Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial. Indianapolis Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC, High Museum of Art, Atlanta

2012
Thornton Dial: Viewpoint of the Foundry Man. Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York
Thornton Dial. Virginia Union University and Art Gallery, Richmond, VA
Thoughts on Paper. Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, NC, Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont, Burlington

2011
Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York

2005
Thornton Dial in the 21st Century. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

1999
Thornton Dial: His Spoken Dreams. Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York

1993
Thornton Dial: Image of the Tiger. New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; American Folk Art Museum, New York; American Center, Paris

1992
Thornton Dial: Works on Paper. Luise Ross Gallery, New York

1991
Thornton Dial, Sr.: Works on Paper. Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York

1990
Thornton Dial: Strategy of the World. Southern Queens Park Association/African-American Hall of Fame, Jamaica, New York
Thornton Dial. Fay Gold Gallery, Atlanta
Thornton Dial: Ladies of the United States. Library Art Gallery, Kennesaw State College, Marietta, Georgia

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2014
When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York
Social Geographies: Interpreting Space and Place, curated by Leisa Rundquist, Asheville Museum of Art, Asheville, NC

2013
Seismic Shifts: Ten Visionaries in Contemporary Art and Architecture. National Academy Museum & School, New York (forthcoming)

2012
Thornton Dial and Lizzi Bougatsos. James Fuentes, New York
The Soul of a City: Memphis Collects African American Art. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TN
Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial. The Frist Center for Visual Arts, Nashville

2011
All Folked Up! Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York
The Armory Show, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York

2002-04
In the Spirit of Martin. Smithsonian Institution, traveling

2000
Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

1998
Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology. Philadelphia Museum

BOOKS & CATALOGUES

2012
Thornton Dial: Viewpoint of the Foundry Man. catalogue, Andrew Edlin Gallery, 2012
Creation Story: Gee's Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial. catalogue, Frist Center for the Visual Arts and Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2012

2011
Thornton Dial: Thoughts on Paper. edited by Bernard L. Herman, Ackland Art Museum and University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, 2011
Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial. catalogue, Prestel 2011

2009
Outsider Art Sourcebook. Raw Vision, 2009

2005
Thornton Dial in the 21st Century. catalogue, Tinwood, 2005

2001
American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum. catalogue, 2001

2000
Souls Grown Deep. Volumes 1 and 2, Arnett et al, 2000 & 2001

1993
Passionate Visions of the American South: Self Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present. New Orleans Museum of Art, 1993
American Self-Taught. Maresca & Ricco, 1993
Thornton Dial: Image of the Tiger. Baraka & McEvilly, 1993
20th Century American Folk, Self-Taught, and Outsider Art. Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1993

1990
Museum of Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists. Abbeville Press, 1990

ARTICLES

2014
Kennedy, Randy. "For Met Museum, a Major Gift of Works by African-American Artists From the South." New York Times, November 24.
Sutton, Benjamin. "The Met Museum Nets Major Collection of Outsider Art from the South." Hyperallergic, November 24.
Niland, Josh. "The Met Hit the Jackpot of African-American Art." artnet News, November 24.

2011
Kuspit, Donald. Review, Artforum, Summer.
Wilkin, Karen. “Biography, History, Self-Evident Beauty.” Wall Street Journal, April 21.
Doran, Anne. Review, Time Out New York, April 14-20.
Review, New Yorker, April 11.
Lacayo, Richard. “Outside the Lines.” Time, March 14.
Kino, Carol. “Letting His Life’s Work Do the Talking.” New York Times, February 20.
Gómez, Edward M. “On the Border.” Art & Antiques Magazine, February.

2010
Jones, Phillip March. “Thornton Dial, Sr.” White Hot Magazine, February.

2002
Giovanni, Nikki; Chassman, Gary Miles; Leonard, Walter. In the Spirit of Martin. Tinwood Books.

1997
Smith, Dinitia, “Bits, Pieces and a Drive To Turn Them Into Art.” New York Times, February 5.

1993
Smith, Roberta. “A Young Style for an Old Story.” New York Times, December 19.
Scott, Sue. “Thornton Dial [exhibition review].” ARTnews 92, April
Lloyd, Ann Wilson. “Thornton Dial at Luise Ross.” Art in America, May.

1991
Kuspit, Donald. “The Appropriation of Marginal Art in the 1980s.” American Art, Winter/Spring.

1987
Kroll, Jack. “The Outsiders Are In: American Folk Artists Move into the World of Money and Fame.” Newsweek, December 2.

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS

American Folk Art Museum, New York
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
The Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Intuit, Chicago, IL
Milwaukee Art Museum
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
New Orleans Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, IL
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Whitney Museum of American Art