UNTITLED (Figures and Construction with Blue Border)
Bill Traylor
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  • UNTITLED (Figures and Construction with Blue Border)
  • Bill Traylor (c. 1854–1949)
  • Montgomery, Alabama
  • c. 1941
  • Poster paint and pencil on cardboard
  • 15 1/2 x 8 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Charles and Eugenia Shannon, 1991.34.1
  • Bill Traylor was a master of composition. He used simple forms and shapes in often marvelously complex figurations. Traylor called his narrative works “exciting events,” and they reveal the artist as a gifted storyteller. In them, many characters come together, often housed in a skeletal construction that doesn’t quite resemble a building. Untitled (Figures and Construction with Blue Border) is a strong example of one such work. Traylor demonstrated his consummate skill and confidence with his strong, unwavering pencil line, the sharply delineated forms, and the overall interaction of negative and positive space. By following the action from bottom to top and as directed by the outstretched, pointing fingers of several characters on the picture plane, the story becomes apparent—a dog has chased a cat to the heights of a tree or a house rooftop.

    The familiar Traylor rendering of a dog appears here, but now the animal displays his teeth in a growl. The dog is artistically and narratively responsible for supporting all the action above it. On an odd structure that resembles a boat, a porch, or a tree, four people stand or leap about animatedly. An irritated cat prowls at the left. A woman, wearing a skirt, has a handful of tensely flared fingers. Everyone’s eyes are wide open in fright, wonder, surprise, or perhaps all three. The woman’s gaze leads us to the primary central action—a man in a top hat coaxing a cat into his grasp. A large bird perched on the man’s hat and child suspended from a tree seem to act as indicators of just how high the cat has climbed and just how frightening this whole event is. As related by Traylor, the scene is also inherently humorous—the unrealistic scale of the animals in relationship to the jaunty, jumping, and swinging human figures provides levity and a sense of joy.
  • Photo by John Parnell