Artist Profile – Thornton Dial
Born in 1928, lives and works in and around Bessemer, Alabama
One of the most widely exhibited and collected contemporary artists associated with American self taught and vernacular art, Thornton Dial has lived much of his life in and around Bessemer, Alabama. He worked as a manual laborer in a variety of positions—as carpenter, bricklayer, house painter, and concrete worker––but spent thirty years as a railroad welder for Pullman Standard, an experience which informed his later large-scale steel sculpture. Dial has always made what he calls “things,” but only upon his retirement in the late 1980s did he begin to concentrate exclusively on his art.
Dial’s work is marked by a diversity in media and the artist’s interaction with social and political concerns. His works fall into three categories: works on paper, sculptures, and mixed media constructions. His drawings often deal with allegorical female figures or current events, while his sculptures and constructions more overtly consider American race relations and the African American experience through the 20th and 21st centuries. Through the efforts of collector and curator William Arnett, Dial’s powerful multimedia work has garnered critical acclaim and has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
A preview for the 2011 exhibition Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.