Hailing from Alabama, artist Thornton Dial (b. 1928) has never shied away from confronting challenging political, social or environmental issues, and his descriptive, rich titles offer entry into these themes. In the Times of Struggle and Blood commemorates African American histories of the Deep South by showing a tilled landscape with indicators of past hardship. Knotted rope, paired with fleshy salmon paint, evokes physical strain and the blood of those who, in the not-too-distant past, formed the labor force of Southern agriculture. According to scholar Bernard Herman, In the Times and its churning surface also references the work of the mule – a hardworking beast that long served as the backbone of Southern husbandry.
Dial had a long career as a railroad welder for the Pullman Standard Company before he turned to art. His first works developed around metal frames as he used his knowledge of steelworking for new purpose. Even as Dial’s art evolved to wall-mounted constructions incorporating found materials from his community of Bessemer, he maintained the aesthetic of twisted metal in his art. The rope in this work visually evokes the structure and strength of his earlier armatures.
The artist has been the subject of several retrospectives throughout the United States, including the major 2011 exhibition “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial,” organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. His work is in the collections of many museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.