Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts

Brings the spirit and mystery of Traylor’s art to life and shines a spotlight on a creative gift that was long ignored and marginalized.

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Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts

This illuminating documentary explores the life of a unique American artist, a man with a remarkable and unlikely biography. Bill Traylor was born into slavery in 1853 on a cotton plantation in rural Alabama. After the Civil War, Traylor continued to farm the land as a sharecropper until the late 1920s. Aging and alone, he moved to Montgomery and worked odd jobs in the thriving segregated black neighborhood. 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.

Having witnessed profound social and political change during a life spanning slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration, Traylor devised his own visual language to translate an oral culture into something original, powerful, and culturally rooted. He made well over a thousand drawings and paintings between 1939-1942. 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.

Using historical and cultural context,
Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts 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 descendants, and Traylor’s striking drawings and paintings to reveal one of America’s most prominent artists to a wide audience.

“A celebration of art and the best of humanity transcending poverty, racism and despair.” ~ Southern Poverty Law Center

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

“An extraordinary artist… Traylor’s pictures stamp themselves on your eye and mind.” ~ Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker

Awards
Jury Prize for Freedom Award – Fine Arts Film Festival
Not Rated
Genre
Documentary, Art & Artists, African-American Experience
Runtime
75
Language
English
Director
Jeffrey Wolf
FEATURED REVIEW
G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle

By the time Charles Shannon, a white artist in Montgomery, Ala., came across Bill Traylor, a homeless African American man scribbling away on pieces of cardboard as people passed by on the city’s celebrated Monroe Street, Traylor was in his 80s, having lived quite the life. Born into slavery in 1853 ...

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