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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 African mythology.

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.