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Bill Traylor's "Female Drinker"
Bill Traylor's <i>Female Drinker</i>: Labels and Privileges
Metropolitan Museum of Art; Robert M. Greenberg
From Review Article by Roberta Smith
in the New York Times, Friday, April 29, 2005.
Background modified slightly by jeanne to resemble print edition.

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: April 29, 2005
Latest Update: March 4, 2006

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Bill Traylor's "Female Drinker": Labels and Privileges

This wonderful painting that I did not know, by a painter I did not know, appeared this morning in the New York Times at p. B 29, in a review, "Altered Views in the House of Modernism," by Roberta Smith of a new show at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Female Drinker so clearly represents drinking by the flask, without even a glance to the title. It represents joyous movement, and it clearly represents a female body by the shape. Roberta Smith says the catalog for the show describes Bill Traylor's work as "flat, antic, weathervane-like figures. . ." The flatness reminds me of the flatness we have seen in the Japanese neopop movement of childlike figures that represent the darker side of Japan's social development.

The antic suggestion of movement reminds me of the joy that I see in the historical celebration of dance and movement in Africa and in the Far East. Remember the Whirling Dervishes? of Islamic Sufi fame? Consider how the painting and the performance photo demonstrate movement and spirituality.

Bill Traylor's <i>Female Drinker</i>: Labels and Privileges Image of whirling dervish from on April 29, 2005. jeanne's first version of feeling the motion.

Another image that comes to mind is that of the Far Eastern Shadow Puppets. Wayang Kulit is a kind of story telling (recall the importance we place on narrative as a means of answerability) known in the Far East, particularly in Java and Bali. The Ledermuseum offers four shadow puppet pictures which come from d several parts of the world and over centuries.

Bill Traylor's <i>Female Drinker</i>: Labels and Privileges Dorsono, a wayang kulit shadow puppet from Java.
Bill Traylor's Female Drinker and Dorsono, a wayang kulit shadow puppet from Java.

Look at the detail and history caught up in the shadow puppets, and then notice the simplification that suggests a modern approach to art. Notice the freedom that subordinates traditional representive forms to the feeling the artist seeks to transmit.Can you imagine a Picasso like this? Look at the newspaper cutout on the index of the Picasso site. Compare to Bill Traylor's image to

Bill Traylor's <i>Female Drinker</i>: Labels and Privileges Thumbnail of Picasso poster of the Acrobat.
Bill Traylor's "Female Drinker and Picasso's Acrobat, poster of, for sale

Compare this Bull of Bill Traylor

Backup of photo of Traylor's Bull from the Village Voice Review of Studio Museum in Harlem.

Bill Traylor’s Bull, 1940–1942 photo
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts/Charles & Eugenia Shannon

"Bill Traylor was born a slave in 1854; after a lifetime as a cotton laborer, destitute and living on a Montgomery, Alabama, sidewalk, he began drawing. He was 83, and sold his work for nickels. Executed on throwaway pieces of cardboard, his compositions are astonishingly astute: The hoof of a silhouetted bull rests on the convergence of two die-cut curves, which also echo its horns; a long rip provides a fuzzy horizon line implying vast distance while emphasizing the beast's imposing grandeur. Black Jesus, his splayed arms as rigid and blunt as two-by-fours, is seemingly half interred—a muddy rectangle reaches waist high on an indigo body torqued with anguish."

From "Two Southern artists who didn’t need to be told anything: Bill Traylor and William Edmondson," by R.C. Baker, June 28th, 2005 4:34 PM. Village Voice online.

Picasso's Bull, from patterns: a photoblog by Juan Sosa

Photo of Picasso's Bull from patterns: a photoblog by Juan Sosa

Picasso's Bull

"This bull reminds me of my grandfather a lot.
He passed away 10 years ago after a long battle with cancer.
The thing I remember most about him is his huge collection of bull statues
he had a table in his house where bull figures of all shapes, sizes and colors rested.
None were quite like this one though." Juan Sosa

Notice the similarity of the horns.

  • William Edmundson, also at Studio Museum in Harlem

    Jack Johnson, 1934-1941, Backup of photo of sculpture by William Edmundson from Artnet Magazine online,

    Jack Johnson, 1934-1941

    "At age 59, handyman William Edmondson felt divinely inspired to start carving sculptures from damaged limestone windowsills, steps, and curbs. Born in Nashville in 1874, one year before Tennessee passed the nation's inaugural Jim Crow segregation laws, he became, in 1937, the first African American to have a solo show at MOMA. His Noah's ark is chiseled from four blocks—two rough-hewn, listing slabs inset with a smaller, leveled rectangle displaying shallowly carved windows and doors, capped by a peaked pilothouse—a touching evocation of God's upright vessel cutting through stormy seas."

    From "Two Southern artists who didn’t need to be told anything: Bill Traylor and William Edmondson," by R.C. Baker, June 28th, 2005 4:34 PM. Village Voice online.

    I was particularly intrigued by Roberta Smith's report of the catalog interpretation of Bill Traylor's place in the world of art: "In the catalog at least, the exhibition examines the simplified forms of their work as proto-modern, placing it within the context of American modernism and the nascent New York art world of the late 1930's and early 40's, when both artists had brushes with official recognition and were then forgotten." (Backup of Altered Views in the House of Modernism)

    Perhaps this seems a little far from religion as a present social issue, but art is one of the means by which we express our spirituality. That explains in part why "primitive" art has such power for us. Most all of our great twentieth centuryartists have at one time or another explored the power of children's art, of outsider art, of the art that sometimes expresses madness, of primitive art, meaning art by those who have not been touched by modern Western culture. Bill Traylor explored the meaning of religion as a present social issue in his Black Jesus.

    Bill Traylor's "Black Jesus" (1939-1942)
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

    Now I'd like you to compare Traylor's Black Jesus to this later work by Jean-Michel Basquiat. This is one of the works highlighted at the Brooklyn Museum exhibit of Basquiat's work which will be coming to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles when it closes in June in New York. Notice that Basquiat's inclusion of the words "crown of thorns" leave no question that he was conscious of and had much to say about religion as a present social issue. "An interviewer asked Basquiat in 1983 if there was anger in his work. “It’s about 80% anger,” he replied. The interviewer continued, “But there’s also humor.” To which Basquiat answered, “People laugh when you fall on your ass. What’s humor?” (Brooklyn Museum Website)

    And finally, can you see any parallels in the photo of Basquiat taken by Lizzie Himmel? Notice the black figure and the halo like object. Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio, 1985. Photograph © Lizzie Himmel. On the Brooklyn Museum Website

    Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio, 1985.
    Photograph © Lizzie Himmel

    "The crown and the halo—the abstract symbols of honor—are all that are really necessary. Basquiat’s use of the halo, however, cannot help but remind us that in the modern world, art is no longer primarily dedicated to the service of religious worship." (Brooklyn Museum Basquiat Exhibit.


    • Raw Vision Index for Back Orders I came across this site on March 4, 2006, while googling Bill Traylor, about whose work I had read a year ago in the NY Times. Impressive collection of indigenous art around the world. Many of the articles in more recent issues are available free on the Internet. I hope you'll check it out and enjoy it. jeanne

    • Bill Traylor Article in Raw Vision No. 15

    • Art Brut & Psychiatry Dr Leo Navratil, founder of the Haus der Kunstler at the Gugging Hospital explores the development of Art Brut and its relationship with psychiatry. In this piece you will find references to Cesare Lombroso, who is one of the earliest criminologists. isn't it strange how all these disciplines cross? Also in Raw Vision No.15.

      • Cesare Lombroso From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
      • Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man From a link under Cesare Lombroso on Wikipedia. (First Reference listed.) Links to A Wikipedia article on this book. Check out the contents of the wikipedia article on The Mismeasure of Man, including critical and positive reviews of the book, which is contrasted and an answer to The Bell Curve (infamous to liberals).
      • Critique of Gould by Arthur Jensen I've got lots to say about this guy. And most of it isn't loveable. He's the one who published in the Harvard Educational Review that "compensatory education has been tried and failed," in which he suggests that blacks can't do abstract thinking. Not so bad, if you're a radical conservative? How about that he had just published a book with White and Katz suggesting just the opposite. Talk about hypocrites. I haven't read this article yet. No time this weekend. jeanne

    • Salvatore Scalora Salutes the Flags of Haiti's Rich and Complex Voodoo Culture. Raw Vision No. 20. Added on March 4, 2006 for Pat, who insists she's going to embrace the Voodoo religion out of annoyance with the Pope.

    • Bill Traylor: Black Artist in the Early Twentieth Century

    • Watts Towers Raw Vision No. 37. Need to get URL from Wikipedia.

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