Bill Traylor
Film On Demand

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts

July 1–31

This event occurred as part of the 21/22 Hop Film season. This is an archived view.

This beautiful film with a sense of swing and soul introduces one of the most important—and least known—American artists of the 20th century.

21/22 Hop Film

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts – Official Trailer

Bill Traylor (ca. 1853–1949) is regarded today as one of the most important American artists of the twentieth century. A black man born into slavery in Alabama, he was an eyewitness to history: the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, the Great Migration and the steady rise of African American urban culture in the South. Traylor would not live to see the civil rights movement, but he was among those who laid its foundation. Starting around 1939 — by then in his late 80's and living on the streets of Montgomery — Traylor took the radical step of picking up pencil and paintbrush to attest to his existence and point of view. He produced well over 1000 drawings and paintings in three years. This colorful, strikingly modernist work eventually led him to be recognized as one of America's greatest self-taught artists and the subject of a 2019 Smithsonian retrospective.

Using historical and cultural context, this inventive documentary brings the spirit and mystery of Traylor's incomparable art to life. Making dramatic and surprising use of tap dance and evocative period music, the film balances archival photographs and footage, insightful perspectives from his descendents, and Traylor's striking drawings and paintings to reveal one of America's most influential artists to a wide audience. D: Jeffrey Wolf, 2020, US, 1h15m

"An extraordinary artist… Traylor's pictures stamp themselves on your eye and mind."
The New Yorker

"Critic's Pick! A sincere, nourishing account of the artist. Wolf makes excellent use of photo and film archives, laying out the territory that fed Traylor's vision."
The New York Times

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Photo by Brigid Pierce, courtesy of Pilobolus.
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