Painting with “pure house paint” – Mose Tolliver

Mose Tolliver

July 4, 1919 — October 30, 2006
Montgomery, AL

“At first [after his accident], everyone took care of me and I got lazy.  When I took up painting, I got started again.”  “I run a painting with a black strip—that’s better than a frame.”

Mose Tolliver began life in Pintala, AL as the son of a sharecropper and farm overseer. He was the youngest of seven sons, born into a family of twelve children and attended school through the third grade

He met and married Willie Mae Thomas in the early 1940’s and fathered eleven children, seven sons and four daughters. Two other children died in infancy. In the late 1960’s a crate of marble fell from a fork-lift and crushed Mose’s left ankle and damaged leg tendons and muscles which left him unable to walk without assistance.

Mose regularly worked with “pure house paint” on plywood; creating whimsical and sometimes erotic pictures of animals, humans, and flora. A “Quail Bird” may glide over a cotton field, or a spread-leg “Diana” may be straddled over “An Exercise Rack Bicycle. Self portraits with crutches are a repeated image, as are watermelons. Mose was dyslexic, which may have encouraged his artistic efforts by limiting his reading and writing abilities. He would often turn his paintings upside-down and paint the picture of perhaps an animal and landscape positioned from various directions. The composition of Toliver titles are wildly divergent; “Smoke Charlies,” “Scopper Bugs,”or “Jick Jack Suzy Satisfying her own Self.”

A couple of years after the accident, and after a period of drunken depression, Mose was encouraged to try oil painting by Raymond McLendon, one of his former employers. He began to paint on any surface given to him. He uses what he calls “pure paint,” which is house paint – oil base at first, and more recently water-based latex.

In 1982, the Smithsonian’s Corcoran Gallery included Mose Tolliver in the seminal show “Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980” This cemented Mose’s place as one of the major self-taught artists of the 20th century.  He passed away on October 30, 2006.

(Photos © Copyright 2006-2013 Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)

Bibliography & Links:

“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

“Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980” by Jane Livingston and John Beardsley, published for the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1982.

“20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art” by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johnson, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, 1993.

“American Folk Art, A Regional Reference” by Kristin G. Congdon and Kara Kelley Hallmark, ABC-CLIO Publishers, California, 2012.

“American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies” by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.

“Baking in the Sun, Visionary Images from the South” by Andy Nasisse and  Maude Wahlman, University of Washington Press, exhibit catalog, 1987.

“Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980” by Jane Livingston and John Beardsley, published for the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1982.

“Contemporary American Folk Art  – A Collector’s Guide”  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, 1996.

“Flying Free: Twentieth-Century Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Ellin and Baron Gordon” by Ellin Gordon, Barbara L. Luck and Tom Patterson, exhibit catalog for The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, 1997.

“Let it Shine: Self-Taught Art from the T. Marshall Hahn Collection”  by Lynne E. Spriggs, Joanne Cubbs, Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Susan Mitchell Crawley, Michael E. Shapiro and Peter Harholdt, organized by the High Museum of Art, 2001.

“Light of the Spirit : Portraits of Southern Outsider Artists” by Karekin Goekjian and Robert Peacock, University of Mississippi Press, 1998.

“Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists” by  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.

“Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art—A guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources” by Betty-Carol Sellen with Cynthia J. Johnson, McFarland & Company, 2000.

“Souls Grown Deep: African American vernacular Art of the South”, Vol 1, Arnett, et al, 1995.

“Testimony: Vernacular Art of the African-American South: the Ronald and June Shelp Collection”, Cronwill, Danto, Gaither, Gundaker and McWillie, 2001.

“Wos Up Man?” Selections from the Joseph D. and Janet M. Sheen Collection of Self-taught Art”  by Joyce Henri Robinson, Palmer Museum of Art, 2005.

Marcia Weber/Art Objects

Anton Haardt Gallery (under Artists)

Self-Taught Folk Art

Raw Vision Magazine

Ginger Young Gallery

Gordon Gallery