In 1989, an art critic denounced Thornton Dial’s drawing skills.
But this criticism only motivated Dial further.
Dial, previously known for his mixed-media sculptures, produced a collection of drawings between 1990 and 1991.
These drawings make up one of the Ackland Art Museum’s latest exhibits, “Thoughts on Paper.”
The exhibit is the first one to feature only Dial’s drawings, said Kimberly Kutz, a curatorial intern for the Ackland.
“He’s best known for his sculpture, actually, not his works on paper,” she said.
In conjunction with “Thoughts on Paper,” UNC Press has released a book of the same name that contains critical essays on Dial’s drawings.
Bernard Herman, an American studies professor, brought the idea for the exhibit to the Ackland and also edited the book “Thoughts on Paper.”
Emily Kass, director of the Ackland, said she was excited when Herman approached her with ideas about the exhibit and the book.
“It’s really important for us to be partners with other departments,” she said.
Kass said partnering with the UNC Press in their first full collaboration ensured that the book would be done the right way and distributed to a wider audience.
Herman said the exhibit is a culmination of his work with his past and present students in partnership with the Ackland.
“Everybody’s hand is in the final product,” he said.
Kutz said that the Dial exhibition is in conversation with its sister exhibition at the Ackland, “Piece by Piece: Quilts, Collages and Constructions.”
Kass said that the Dial exhibit is an also extension of the Ackland’s recent contemporary art exhibitions, like “The Spectacular of Vernacular.”
“This seemed to be kind of an extension of that conversation,” she said.
But Herman said Dial wasn’t always seen as a contemporary artist.
He said Dial was typically branded “self-taught”, “folk”, or “African-American” — labels Dial didn’t like.
“This is an artist for whom those categories are completely disruptive,” Herman said.
“It speaks to being a contemporary artist in a world that wants to term you African-American.”
Herman said Dial challenges all of those categories through his art.
“I love this show and everything it represents.”
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