Bill Traylor was born into slavery in 1854 (according to other sources in 1856). The son of Sally and Bill Calloway - both slaves - grew up in Alabama, on the plantation of the white cotton grower George Hartwell Traylor (via) where he later worked as an emancipated sharecropper.
He was in his mid eighties when the plantation he had spent all his life on was sold (via). And he was in his mid eighties, when he one day, picked up a stub of pencil and a scrap of cardboard from the street and started drawing (via). Despite the circumstances, Traylor's art never showed anything bitter but rather optimism which could be interpreted as "the only kind of resistance to power and repression that a 95-year-old black man in Alabama could offer some eight decades after the Civil War's end. That resistance is the art of insistent optimism and celebration of humanity and nature that can be summoned even amid the most sustained coercion." (via). Bill Traylor started drawing in 1939, had his first public exhibition in 1940 and produced about 1.500 pieces of art from 1939 to 1942. He died in 1945 (via).
"Racism and poverty have been the obvious obstacles to Traylor's appreciation, but more recently it has been the myth of the Outsider Artist, a kind of cultural ghettoization of the so-called untrained, poorly connected, marginalized savant, that accounts for not just Traylor's relative obscurity, but for the obscurity of thousands of artists like him throughout the U.S. alone. Eurocentrism--the Western cultural bias that elevates the self-proclaimed refinement of the European art-historical legacy above the productions of the myriad non-Western legacies of the world--is an even more entrenched and insidious dynamic keeping Traylor from achieving the truly international renown he is due." (via)
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