Self-taught Artist Thornton Dial – From Factory Worker to Prominent Artist

Thornton Dial in his studio in Bessemer, Ala. Credit Josh Anderson/The New York Times

Self-Taught Artist – “Outsider” Artist

Dial, who passed away at 87 years old on January 2016 is a self-taught African American artist who came to prominence in the United States in the late 1980s.

Thornton Dial. September 28, 1928 wikipedia.org
Thornton Dial. September 28, 1928
wikipedia.org

Thornton Dial was born in 1928 in Emelle, Alabama. He began farm work when we was five years old and attended school rarely.

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.”

Artist Thornton Dial in front of his latest work, “Crossing Waters,” at the High Museum. PHIL SKINNER / PSKINNER@AJC.COM
Artist Thornton Dial in front of his latest work, “Crossing Waters,” at the High Museum. PHIL SKINNER / PSKINNER@AJC.COM

His principal place of employment was the Pullman Company in Bessemer, Alabama working as a machinist, until the company closed its doors in 1981. After the Pullman factory shut down, Dial began to dedicate himself to his art for his own pleasure.

He was ‘discovered’ by Bill Arnett, an Atlanta-based collector of art made by black Southerners. And the rest as they say, is history.

 

Thornton Dial Life Go On, 1990
Thornton Dial
Life Go On, 1990

 

Thornton Dial All Together, 1994
Thornton Dial
All Together, 1994

evening star

Freedom Cloth 2005 86 x 68 x 57 inches (218.4 x 172.7 x 144.8 cm) Cloth, coat hangers, steel, wire, artificial plants and flowers, enamel, and spray paint
Freedom Cloth
2005
86 x 68 x 57 inches (218.4 x 172.7 x 144.8 cm)
Cloth, coat hangers, steel, wire, artificial plants and flowers, enamel, and spray paint

 

Everything is Under the Black Tree, by Thornton Dial
Everything is Under the Black Tree, by Thornton Dial

Many of Dials art pieces fetch in the upwards of 12,000 each.

What is Outsider Art?
The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for raw art or rough art (untrained artists), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture. More here

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