“Hard Truths,” an exhibit from artist Thornton Dial, explores complex social problems that have plagued, and still run deep, in our society today. Racism, alienation, global politics and homelessness are all targets for Dial, who expresses his opinions in very original pieces of art.
Dial, born and raised in a rural town in Alabama, has seen very tough times.
Poor for most of his life, he was one of 12 children in his family with only his mother raising them. Absolute poverty led him and his siblings to create toys out of objects they would find lying around, and thus was the inspiration for Dial’s work.
Dial uses anything and everything he can find in his art, including carpet, oil cans, abandoned truck parts, children’s toys, wire, rope and even animal skeletons to convey his message.
Manifested in “Hard Truths,” his observations of the world reflect his upbringing in rural Alabama. Focusing mainly on the plight of African Americans in the South, he sees how mistreated African Americans have been in America and seeks to bring awareness to these things. His piece “Looking For the Good Price” from 1993 portrays a slave auction in the pre-Civil War South. The slave, a tortured soul is being auctioned off by a white man, a ghostly figure with devilish eyes. Framing the piece is an old bicycle chain, representing the cycle of mistreatment and how it even occurs to this day.
The majority of his art also juxtaposes rural life with urban life. Dial seeks to disprove the glorification of small town living, portraying it as rough and extremely hard. In his piece “Heaven and Hell on Earth,” Dial splits the work down the middle with the urban side on the left and the rural side on the right. At first glance, the urban side looks bleak and desolate and represents hell.
The rural side is filled with pastel colors and images of simple farm life. However, the urban also has huge nuggets of gold mixed in with the grays and blacks, with the rural having no visible sign of gold. He sees the rural side as being bleak, with riches almost impossible to find.
Dial has also focused much of his work on global politics and the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Driving to the End of the World,” a five piece set focusing on the United States’ addiction to oil and our relationships with Middle
Eastern countries is perhaps Dial’s biggest piece in the collection. Made up of an old oil barrel and an abandoned truck he found in a wooded area, he creates an apocalyptic feel with bleak images of our future if we continue down our current path.
Included in “Hard Truths’’ are some drawings of his, mainly portraying the plight of women and the struggle for equal rights. They are in a cubist style, similar to Picasso. These are the weakest of all of his pieces but are still interesting to see.
To see the message in his work, one needs a little patience and an open mind, but once found, the message is clear. “Hard Truths” focuses on the plight of the human experience, but also sees hope in it as well.
“You can hide the truth, but you can’t get rid of it,” reads a quote of Dial’s in the exhibit. “When the truth come out in the light, we get the beauty of the world.”