‘Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts’ tells story of Black artist born in 1853

Bill Taylor Chasing Ghosts

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

Directed by Jeffrey Wolf

Executive Producer: Sam Pollard

…in Traylor, we can see the power of individual voice…the work is transcendent and essential.” — Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghostsis an inventive feature documentary capturing the vivid life of Bill Traylor, who in his late 80s, living homeless on the street in the thriving segregated Black neighborhood of Montgomery, produced a body of extraordinary art. Born into an enslaved family in 1853 on a cotton plantation in rural Alabama, he witnessed profound social and political change during his life spanning Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration. In his later years, he poured out those memories from within, drawing and painting over 1,000 pieces of art from 1939 to 1942. Using historic and cultural context, the film brings the spirit and mystery of Traylor’s incomparable art to life and shines a spotlight to a remarkable creative gift that was long ignored and marginalized.

Bill Taylor Chasing Ghosts
BILL TRAYLOR, PHOTOGRAPH by Horace Perry, Courtesy Alabama State Council on the Arts.

This illuminating documentary explores the life of a unique American artist, a man with a remarkable and unlikely biography. After the Civil War, Traylor continued to farm the land upon which he was born as a sharecropper until the late 1920s. Aging and alone, he moved to Montgomery and worked odd jobs. A decade later, in his late 80s, Traylor became homeless and started to draw and paint, both memories from plantation days and scenes of a radically changing urban culture. Traylor devised his own visual language to translate an oral culture into something original, powerful, and culturally rooted. 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 Smithsonian retrospective.Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts” is directed by editor/filmmaker Jeffrey Wolf, of the doc “James Castle: Portrait of an Artist” previously, plus the film “Mail Order Bride.” Kino Lorber will debut the doc in select theaters + “virtual cinemas” starting April 16th.

Take a look at the trailer: https://youtu.be/jkdi1o7VrLU

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