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Other Story by Katja Zimmerman - The Alternate World In John Pomara

Bill Traylor Beyond Plagiarizing

Alleged Traylor Rip

Dunn and Brown Contemporary Invitation to
Deborah Grant - By The Skin Of Our Teeth - March 2007

Somebody recently defined outsider art as "the only art curators will drive across town to see." And because of that, there are lots of fake outsiders these days, but more of that later. I returned to pay attention to Bill Traylor (1856-1947) because someone [Deborah Grant] in Dallas had plagiarized (kidnapped) his motifs for their own paintings, and not well either.

Bill Traylor - Dog

Bill Traylor - Dog, 1939-1942
from one of ArtNet's Traylor pages

When viewers of art look at outsiders (an unfortunate term, but common), they hope for the kind of authenticity, and perhaps even suffering, that is so clear in Bill Traylor's work. They want the story, I regret to say, about poverty, and sleeping in a casket room, and drawing on shirt-cardboards while sitting on the curb in Montgomery, Alabama. For knowing these facts, of course, we can't do better than Raw Vision magazine, where outsider art, art brut and contemporary folk art are charmingly examined, with superb color pictures.

Bill Traylor working -

Bill Traylor At Work
Photographs are from Marcia Weber Art Objects in
Montgomery, Alabama, which handles Traylor's work.

Photographer unknown

Raw Vision #15 had a fine article about Bill Traylor, and it can be reached easily on the web at www.rawvision.com/back/traylor/traylor.html. We desire authenticity as we desire to be grounded, to have the genuine experience, and nobody can blame us for that. But I wonder if all the authenticity does not reside in Bill Traylor's work rather than simply in his suffering.

Art by Bill Traylor

original art by Bill Traylor

Whether he is making a turtle turn its head toward us in panic or making a blue man "arching" in a pinwheel, Bill Traylor draws and paints concentrated energy. The figures, the houses with the animals, the preaching, dancing, and domesticity, skip way beyond cuteness into that realm of the narrative silhouette we find in Greek black figure vase painting.

His painting is good because Bill Traylor knew how to use everything in his grasp. It is good because the images are perfect in their intensity. Did he know this because he lived closer to the ground than the rest of us? I assume he always would have made the most of every material he possessed.

Original Art by Bill Traylor

original art by Bill Traylor at his first exhibition

It was impossible for the visually acute to miss Bill Traylor's power when his works began to be shown, but vital connections were missed. In 1942, Alfred Barr of MOMA, having reports that praised Bill Traylor's show at The Fieldston School (Riverdale, NY), sent Bill's greatest supporter and friend, Charles Shannon, a letter. In Raw Vision, N. F. Karlins tells us: "Shannon received a letter proposing the purchase of several drawings by the museum for a small sum and a check.

As the museum had not even asked if the works were for sale and the tone of the letter was less than agreeable to him, Shannon rejected the request and returned the check." How dare this Alfred Barr get uppity with him? Now we see that curators have learned from the touchiness of Charles Shannon, and have begun to drive anywhere to see outsiders in person.

And because the curators do drive across town to visit outsiders (knowing that insiders will accept checks in the mail and likely have dealers too), there are lots of what we might call fake outsiders or "outsiders lite." To be unkind, I'll say they should suffer more. Insider appropriators are worse, those who find the works of Bill Traylor quite cute and subject to pastiche into funny zoos of wrong colors. Bill Traylor did not plagiarize.

August 2007


Great video about Painting Mass Media and the art of fair use — by Joy Garnett (no pause)

More images of Bill Traylor's work online:

http://books.google.com/books?id=_kqruQCF0KEC&pg=PA10&lpg=PA10&dq=Bill+Traylor&source=web&ots=BKhZuGA8Ja&sig=Hb-m5naxD5JRTnUJM2QlLKuXsvI#PPP1,M1 - book about Traylor to be read online

And there's an interesting exhibition essay from the Menil Collection in Houston, except that it doesn't always load.


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