New Documentary Showcases Bill Traylor’s Bracing Visions

Bill Traylor, circa. 1940s.

Photograph by Horace Perry. Image courtesy of Alabama State Council on Arts.

Bill Traylor was born into slavery in 1853 and didn’t begin his work with figural charcoal creations until his 80s. Although Traylor and his work are just now being recovered from obscurity, there is still much to learn about this important Black artist of the 20th century. In this feature for Artnews, Maximilíano Durón reviews the documentary Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts. Directed by Jeffrey Wolf, the film chronicles Traylor's life and his artmaking practices, filling some of the gaps left in the art historical record.

“Traylor may not have left behind an autobiography or an oral history, the way many artists have done throughout the centuries, but the art we still have by him—much of it is presumed to be lost—offer a sense of the lives he and others in his community lived. It’s up to us to piece it all together.” - Maximilíano Durón