The Art of Thornton Dial by Joanne Cubbs at the High Museum

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The exhibit Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial opened up at the High Museum with a lecture by Joanne Cubbs on November 1st.

With the artist in the audience, Cubbs gave an overview of Thornton Dial’s work and tried to place it in a category.

When asked, Joanne Cubbs said she would categorize this art as contemporary modern art. Many try to place it in folk art or African American yard art. She even went further to point out comparisons to Pollock.

Thornton Dial is not a man of letters and is illiterate, but he holds a life time of experiences and has a voice that addresses many of the racial divisions found in this nation.  His work also speaks to inequity and the horrors of war.

In the accompanying catalog, Dial is quoted as saying, “All truth is hard truth. We’re in the darkness now, and we got to accept the hard truth to bring on the light. You can hide the truth, but you can’t get rid of it. When truth come out in the light, we get the beauty of the world.”

From the African American tradition that slaves had their possessions on hand to escape to freedom at any moment, Dial takes many found items and changes them to fit a new purpose in art.

Dial’s work was on the rise in the 1990’s, but Morley Safer of 60 Minutes did a scathing piece that portrayed the artist in a bad light. This negative publicity hurt his acceptance into the art community. But now, there is a reexamination of his work.

These pieces are quite large and are full of emotion and very powerful. They speak to tragedies–one labeled “The Last Day of Martin Luther King,” a portrait of Christ’s Last Supper and the Crucifixion, serves as a metaphor of Kings impeding death.

The black Mickey Mouse symbolizes the chain of capitalism and how globalization holds this iconography back.

A very powerful piece, “Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got to Tie Us Together” is made from a mattress, coils, chicken wire, clothing, can lids, found metal, plastic twin, and wire, colored with the patriotic colors of red, white, and blue.

From Bessomer, Alabama, Dial is in the heart of the civil rights struggle.  He addresses the atrocities of slavery, Jim Crowism, segregation and the current state of race relations.

This artist also takes a page from the southern tradition of “yard art,” where found objects are reconfigured to make a statement.  They are half buried to show the return to the earth.

Cubbs also shared that Dial’s work is also made in the same vein as modern expressionism.

Not only is Dial’s art larger than life–I liked it because it was green.  It was fun to see how these mash-up of modern capitalist discarded items are reconfigured to stimulate your mind’s eye on the larger issues of our day.

Hard Truths is on exhibition at the High Museum of Art through March 3rd, 2013

For details and information visit: www.High.org

 

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