Studio Sunday: Bill Traylor

A photo of Bill Traylor surrounded by paintings in an outdoor space


William “Bill” Traylor was an American artist who was born into slavery in Alabama in the mid 19th century. Traylor spent most of his life working on plantations, and didn’t begin producing art until he was in his 80s. He was an incredibly prolific artist, producing well over 1,000 drawings and paintings during his short artistic career.


Given the time period in which Traylor was working, it’s unsurprising that the artist was unable to rent a dedicated “studio” space. As the image above indicates, many of the artist’s works were produced on the sidewalk and in outdoor areas, with the artist document his life and surroundings in combinations of sketching and often monochromatic paint. The loose, heavily stylized and abstracted aesthetic of the artist’s works gives me the impression that Traylor tended to work quickly, capturing moments in time rather than detailed landscapes or scenes.


I would guess that the above image was staged at some point later in the artist’s career -- though Traylor’s works didn’t gain widespread recognition until after his death, hundreds of his works were exhibited in a solo show put on by fellow artist and friend Charles Shannon. Though his life and career were marked by the pitfalls of racism and classism, the artist seems content surrounded by so many of his works.


Traylor passed away in 1949, and his work remained relatively unknown until the late 1970s, at which point Shannon purchased Traylor’s entire portfolio. To date, Traylor’s works have been exhibited in several notable institutions, and the artist has been the subject of books and talks.

[image source]

Written by: Dallas Jeffs
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