Thornton Dial


Thornton Dial (28 September 1928 – 25 January 2016) was a pioneering American artist who came to prominence in the late 1980s. Dial's body of work exhibits formal variety through expressive, densely composed assemblages of found materials, often executed on a monumental scale. His range of subjects embraces a broad sweep of history, from human rights to natural disasters and current events. Dial's works are widely held in American museums; ten of Dial's works were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2014.

Wikidata identifier


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Dial began creating art from found objects in the 1980s. In 1987, he began painting full-time. His work explores relationships between races, between men and women, and between God and people. His children and other family members are also artists. His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Some sources give his birth place as Bessemer, Alabama. A steelworker for thirty years, Thornton Dial created painted objects for much of his life before turning to works on canvases in 1987. A self-taught folk artist, Dial built up different mediums on his canvases, and he depicted a mix of human and animal forms. Throughout his works, Dial referenced moments in Black history such as the middle passage and the Los Angeles riots of 1992.

Country of birth

United States


Artist, assemblage artist, institution, naive artist, painter, sculptor

ULAN identifier



Thornton Dial, Sr. Thornton Dial, Thorton Dial

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Information from the Getty Research Institute's Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License. Accessed June 25, 2024.