You Can't Get Away from the Shotgun House

  • Click on image to enlarge

    Photo: Gamma One Conversions
  • Click on image to enlarge

    Photo: Ben Apfelbaum, 1995
Wood, cloth, tin, metal, wire, enamel, spray paint, and Splash Zone compound on canvas on wood
66.5 x 40 x 9.5 inches

During his thirty-year stint at the Pullman-Standard plant, Dial walked to work and back daily from his house in the Pipe Shop neighborhood four miles away. The route served the artist in him well. Though the houses and other buildings in the black working-class neighborhoods were cheaply erected and humbly furnished, they were not lacking in artistic merit. On every block were objects and arrangements of objects that could be called, with no exaggeration, “museum quality.” Some were in yards, some were attached to houses, some were inside. Dial studied them all. He visited with the people who created them, discussed their intentions and techniques with them, and often explained his own artistic vision.

On his journeys through the neighborhood, Dial paid particular attention to the houses, the most prominent of which was the “shotgun” house. This architectural form, an heirloom with origins in Africa, is probably the most visible and enduring symbol of the black South. Except when Dial traveled away from Alabama, it is likely that there has not been a day in which he failed to see a shotgun house or a hundred of them. Thus, the image of the shotgun house is a significant one in Dial’s art, and often signifies autobiography, cultural heritage, or industry. (The shotgun style was used extensively for the company housing provided by factories to their workers. Sometimes the factories themselves resembled rows of shotgun houses.)

Dial has quite literally been unable to get away from the shotgun house. When late in life he moved to a secluded estate outside Bessemer, the house was an expanded contemporary version of the shotgun house. With this fact in mind, Dial created the assemblage You Can’t Get Away from the Shotgun House. The bottom half of the assemblage represents the group of small shotgun houses in Dial’s old neighborhood. At the top stands Dial’s new and larger house. A King Kong–like primate (Dial) is climbing up and in. —William Arnett