Coming to select theatres and to virtual cinemas today, Friday, April 16:
Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts
Smithsonian American Art Museum (September 2018)
Freep, San Francisco DocFest
The biography of a former Black slave turned celebrated self-taught artist.
Bill Traylor was born into slavery in 1853 on a cotton plantation. It was not until his 80s when he began to express himself through art. Drawing and painting on the sidewalks of Montgomery, his work featured crude animal and human figures that at times functioned as allegorical explorations of his memories of slavery and later life experiences. This body of work has been embraced in more recent years, included in notable museum exhibitions. While Traylor’s work has its appeal, director Jeffrey Wolf’s approach to his story is an odd mix of very conventional PBS biographical portrait with artsy, would-be inventive flourishes that feel at cross purposes with the constant recitation of the prosaic details of Traylor’s life. Odd staged scenes, enacted readings of writings by Zora Neale Hurston and others, and music and dance interludes tend to distract from, rather than enrich, the appreciation of Traylor’s work.