Sometimes subjects like the War in Iraq, 9/11, and racism aren’t the easiest to discuss, but when you add color, everyday objects and a healthy dose of realism, the issue becomes bearable.
Artist Thornton Dial tackles those issues and more in his most extensive exhibition, entitled “The Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial” on display from Feb. 25 to May 15 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Inspired by the traditions of the Black South, this exhibit “highlights the artist’s significant contribution to the field of American art.”
“The work of Thornton Dial offers powerful insight into the most compelling political and social issues of our time,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, the Melvin and Bren Simon director and CEO of the IMA. “This exhibition will bring long-overdue recognition to Dial’s remarkable career and make his work accessible to new audiences.”
The exhibition presents 70 of Dial’s large-scale paintings, drawings and found-object sculptures, including 25 works on view for the first time. This exhibit also showcases 20 years of Dial’s work as an artist. He began to gain notoriety in his 50s.
Dial has had no formal education as an artist, but is considered one that has developed a truly distinctive and original style. Joanne Cubbs, adjunct curator of American Art for the Indianapolis Museum of Art, had known about Dial and his work since his beginnings.
She believes that of any artwork considered important or significant, Dial’s pieces go above and beyond.
“His art takes a look into life’s deepest existential quandaries. It’s an art of profound depth and probing vision,” said Tubbs.
Furthermore, “The Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial” exhibit is historic. Because of the kind of artist he is, Dial has not received the kind of recognition one would expect. This is the first exhibit to survey Dial’s 20 years as an artist. His IMA debut marks only the third time in his career that he is the solo featured artist.
Dial’s work can be described as visually powerful and physically arresting. Influenced by African-American yard shows, Dial’s work incorporates salvaged objects – from plastic grave flowers and children’s toys to carpet scraps – to create highly-charged collections. He takes an almost archaeological approach to his artwork.
“On top of that, he engulfs his images in expressionistic brush strokes of color and paint,” said Tubbs. “At times he sets his paintings on fire to create another kind of surface texture. Every work has an unpredictable element about it.”
Dial is considered a painting master in terms of his technique.
While Dial’s work explores everyday topics, it also takes an unflinching and unrelenting look at American history and humanity. His art touches on topics ranging from the dilemmas of labor and the abuse of the natural environment to recent significant political and cultural moments – with a particular focus on the struggles of historically marginalized groups such as women, the rural poor and the underclass.
Born out of decades of the artist’s own struggle as a working-class Black man, Dial’s artistry also explores the history of racial oppression in America, from slavery through the civil rights movement and today.
The Alabama native’s art may be unyielding and one that gets people to dialogue, but there is always a sense of hope. Tubbs says his works are sort of parables that hold lessons of instruction – how we should be as human beings.
“He presents us with these mysteries which are accumulations of these objects and he provides us often with a colorful title that gives us a point of entry. Beyond that, he wants us to be able to move into his works and read for ourselves the ‘signs’ to create our own meanings and life inspiration. He doesn’t want us to come away from his work with a very simple understanding of what he was trying to say. He wants us to use his pieces as a way to explore our world.”
“Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial” will include the 1992 work “The Last Day of Martin Luther King,” which examines the life, death and transformative message of the assassinated political leader, and “Victory in Iraq” from 2004, a 10-foot canvas that incorporates barbed wire and iconic symbols of America’s role in world conflict.
Additionally, a Dial work recently acquired by the IMA will be on view in the exhibition – “Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got to Tie Us Together,” which dates from 2003 and evokes the image of a torn and ravaged American flag that serves to unite us and the 2009 piece “Turtle Holding Flag,” which celebrates President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
For more information, call 317-923-1331 or visit www.imamuseum.org.
The new HARD TRUTHS Book
Produced in conjunction with the exhibition of the same title, this major book chronicles artist Thornton Dial’s creative life, including his extraordinary journey from the Black Belt fields and factories of the South to the galleries and museums of New York City. It also examines the Southern Black art traditions in which his creations are rooted, and features an in-depth look at the history, themes, and development of Dial’s art. The lavishly-illustrated monograph includes more than 150 color reproductions. The book is available for sale at the museum.