Shadows of the Field

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
String, twine, synthetic cotton batting, wood, burlap, sheet metal, cloth rags, nails, staples, and enamel on canvas on wood
79 x 105 x 5 inches
Collection of
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Dial evokes a dusky memory from his youth in a related piece from 2008, Shadows of the Field, in which old cotton batting serves as a double metaphor for the cotton-studded fields and cloud-filled skies of the southern landscape. A ragged remnant from the past, the cotton here has turned into a tattered web strung along horizontal planks that recall lines of plowed ground, old wooden fencing, or country roads. There is beauty in the work’s gloomy lyricism, but suggestions of horror as well. Flecks of red paint represent the symbolic “blood of hard times” and offer a reminder of countless pickers’ hands bloodied from the sharp spikes of the cotton plants. Also within the canvas are a number of black birds, made from the artist’s soiled paint rags, hanging lifeless like dark laundry pinned to a clothesline. A play on the racist designation for black people, “Jim Crow,” Dial’s black birds reappear in a series of lynching images that he produced during the same period. The works, all subtitled The Birds That Didn’t Learn How to Fly, carry enigmatic allusions to freedom, escape, migration, and survival. —Joanne Cubbs