The hard truths of Thornton Dial finally on display

by • 1 July, 2012 • #StateoftheArts, The Arts, Word on the StreetComments Off on The hard truths of Thornton Dial finally on display863

Hard Truths: The Arts of Thornton Dial will be on exhibit at the Mint Museum until September 30, 2012.  Dial’s work addresses some of the most urgent issues of our time—war, racism, bigotry, and poverty. His art is an affirmation of the resilience of the African-American spirit. Despite many efforts to marginalize his work Dial has maintained his dignity through his unique form of expression.

Born in 1928 in rural Alabama, Thornton Dial began working as soon as he could walk and received little formal education. He has hauled ice, poured concrete, done carpentry and laid bricks, among other things; in the name of survival not art. During these years of hard work Dial, a keen observer; began collecting seemingly random items to create a visual narrative of his American experience.

Mr. Dial was a retired metalworker when he met William Arnett; a white Atlanta collector with a passion for preserving southern black art. Arnett gave Dial a monthly stipend and “that’s when I start do the art for museums and stuff” says Dial. Arnett would become largely responsible for Dials’ exposure.

In the early ’90s, Dial used the tiger as a metaphor for Black America in his first museum exhibition, “Image of the Tiger.” The show received good reviews and was initially well received. It seemed that Thornton Dial was about to break the barrier between the folk (outsider) art and “fine” art worlds. Then 60 Minutes ran a segment that suggested Mr. Arnett was exploiting black artists, particularly Mr. Dial.


Although Dial’s works been included in group shows at notable museums, as well private collections including Jane Fonda, who remains a major supporter; this is Mr. Dial’s first career retrospective. He has continued to invoke the specter of slavery and social commentary in his work. Dial who is now wheelchair bound was at the opening of the exhibit at he Mint along with Mr. Arnett who has remain his friend and supporter.The show also includes work he made in response to the 2001 World Trade Center attack and the gulf war. Sculptures like the monumental “Crosses to Bear (Armageddon),” and paintings like “Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got to Tie Us Together”.

He has become a self-taught master of contemporary mixed-media-painting and assemblage sculpture. Dial has generally been classified as a folk or outsider artist, like Basquiat and many other modern and contemporary masters.  If you have the privilege to encounter Thronton Dial’s work, you might be at a loss for words but not tears. “It is art this is akin to drinking water out of a fire hose,” said Brad Thomas the curator for contemporary art at the Mint.

The Mint Museun has included both it’s campuses in the Hard Truths: The Arts of Thornton Dial exhibit. His large scale works will be at the Uptown Mint Museum and a selection of his drawings will be on display at Mint Museum Randolph in the Dickson Gallery from June 30 – September 30, 2012.

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