The renowned Bill Traylor made art for only three years, from 1939 to 1942, by which time he was in his eighties. He had spent his entire life at the George Traylor Plantation in Benton, Alabama, first as a slave, then—after emancipation—as a freed farmworker. When he left the plantation at age eighty-four and moved to Montgomery, he unleashed his artistic spirit, creating art on the streets of the city. He worked with found material—laundry shirt boards for a surface, discarded pencil stubs and paint for line and color—and in a very public setting, producing about 1,500 works.
Traylor's paintings are at once ancient, contemporary, and timeless. Simple forms rest on plain backgrounds. Evident pencil markings illustrate the artist's process - he would usually lay down geometric shapes in pencil to create an animal, person, or architectural folly; then he would fill in the lines with pencil or paint in a limited palette of red, blue, brown, yellow, green, and black. His figures are always shown frontally or in profile; the artist seems to have been very uninterested in portraying convincing space or perspective.
Dog is a classic Traylor image. The hole in the upper lefthand corner might have been made by the artist himself - he often hung his finished drawings from a string to sell to passersby on the street. Rendered in thick brown paint, Dog occupies its cardboard surface with confidence and bravado. Its tail, tongue, and penis all hang in the wind. It is alert, perhaps ready to pounce with its unpainted paws. Its animated eye and ears bring the animal to life. Because the dog so gracefully fills the page, the negative space becomes integrated into the success of the piece. Dog illustrates a confidence in stance, composition, and scale that is very nearly a Traylor trademark.
Traylor's drawings are known to us today because of the efforts of artist Charles Shannon, who worked for the Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project and lived in Montgomery at the same time as Traylor. It is because of a chance encounter between an artist from the academy and the untutored artist from the street that this work is preserved today.
Brooke Davis Anderson, "Dog," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 374.