| b. 1921/1922|
Significant parallels have been drawn between Mose Tolliver's paintings
and the development of blues music. At the time of their origin,
both stemmed from the vernacular and were crafted from the heart
and souls of their self-taught creators. Both use rhythm and alternating
tempos to express feelings and interpret experiences, and both have
a style unmistakably their own.
From the start, Mose Tolliver used imagery borrowed from popular
culture as inspiration for his work. His sources have included
dollar bills, advertisements, posters and signs which the artist
transforms in his unique style. Tolliver has made pictures from
and directly on photographs, paintings and prints, and has depicted
an array of subjects on found surfaces, objects and furniture.
While Tolliver's style is undeniably distinct, he employs a symbolic
language that bespeaks a common frame of reference shared with
many of his self-taught contemporaries, as well as with traditional
Mose Tolliver was born in rural Alabama in 1921 or 1922. His
parents were tenant farmers until, unable to support their twelve
children, they moved the family to the city of Montgomery. Tolliver
attended school until he was eight or nine years old, when he
began working. He worked the majority of his career as a gardener
and general maintenance man. In the early 1940's, Tolliver married
his longtime friend Willie Mae Thomas. They had thirteen children,
eleven of whom survive.
Tolliver began painting in the 1960's after a job-related accident
rendered him unable to walk without crutches and prevented him
from working. At the time, Tolliver recalls, he painted to "keep
his head together." His early works were inspired largely
by his environment and featured birds, trees and flowers. Over
the years his subject matter has evolved, expanding to include
people, memories of rural Alabama, religion, erotic imagery and
more. These subjects are handled with a skillful sense of color
and composition, and with a consistent sense of humor.
Since his inclusion in the Corcoran Gallery's seminal exhibition
in 1982, Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980, Mose Tolliver has
been widely recognized as a prolific self-taught artist, a master
in his field and a unique voice in African-American art. He passed away in 2006.