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Art on Film | “Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts”

Thursday, October 17, 2019

6:30 PM

Yates Community Room

Using the medium of film, the Museum explores the stories of the artists and art on view in its new ongoing permanent collection exhibition, New Symphony of Time. This month, ART ON FILM presents Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts, a feature documentary film that explores the life of a unique American artist, a man with a remarkable and unlikely biography.

Bill Traylor was born into slavery in 1853 on a cotton plantation in rural Alabama. Using historical and cultural context, the film is designed to bring the spirit and mystery of Traylor’s incomparable art to life. After the Civil War, Traylor continued to farm the land until the late 1920s. Aging and alone, he moved to Montgomery and worked odd jobs in the thriving segregated black neighborhood. A decade later, in his late 80s, Traylor became homeless and started to draw and paint, both memories from plantation days and scenes of a radically changing urban culture. Traylor devised his own visual language to record the stories of his life, translating an oral culture into something original, powerful, and culturally rooted. He made well over a thousand drawings and paintings between 1939-1942. Traylor witnessed profound social and political change during his life spanning slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration. The transcendent surprise is while Traylor kept to himself leading an unassuming life, he was nurturing a remarkable creative gift that would not be expressed for decades. Tap dance, evocative period music and spoken word are used in dramatic and surprising ways in the film, balanced with archival photographs and footage, insightful perspectives from Traylor family members, and Traylor’s striking drawings and paintings, to reveal one of America’s most prominent artists to a wider audience.

Following the screening, participants will hear from the film’s producer and director, Jeffrey Wolf.

The Art on Film series is sponsored by Ergon Foundation and presented in partnership with Crossroads Film Festival.

Jeffrey Wolf made the acclaimed documentary, James Castle: Portrait of an Artist, an award-winning film that delves into the life and creative process of the artist James Castle, as told by family members, artists and members of the deaf community. Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts is Wolf’s second feature-length documentary. He has also made short films about the following artists: James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas, Martin Ramirez, Elijah Pierce, and Gregory Van Maanen. Wolf is recognized for his film work with prominent directors such as Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet, David Grubin, John Waters, Ted Demme, and Lasse Hallström. Films include The Ref, Beautiful Girls, Holes, Life, among others.