The Improvisational Eye

Works on Paper by Self-Taught Artists

November 24, 2018 through February 3, 2019

On view in the Wilson and Williamson Galleries


Some of the twentieth-century’s most innovative artists, those now typically described as self-taught, reveled in the use of unusual and distinctive materials, many of which were not generally associated with the production of art. This reflects the importance of improvisation that is considered elemental and characteristic of their distinctive practices. This exhibition of works on paper by self-taught artists expands the typical consideration of their art, since paper has one of the longest histories of use in art-making.

Self-taught artists frequently utilized whatever resources they had at hand, including paper that may have had a previous use such as commercial packaging. The drawings of Bill Traylor (American, 1856–1949) are excellent examples of such “re-use”— in his case cardboard that he scavenged from empty boxes that had held candy or notions. Similarly, the artist Sybil Gibson (American, 1908–1995) used newspaper, brown paper shopping bags, or commercial wrapping papers as supports for her drawings. Others such as Juanita Rodgers (American, 1934–1985) obtained paper typically used for typing or printing. Thornton Dial (American, 1928–2016) worked in many media and made drawings later in his career using artist’s paper intended for the water-based media he favored.

The artists in this exhibition were improvisational both in their choices of material as well as the imagery they transferred to their paper media.

Above: Photograph of the 2018 installation of the exhibition at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

This exhibition reflects the importance of improvisation that is considered elemental and characteristic of each artist’s distinctive practices.


Organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama.


Support for this exhibition was made possible in part by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

Scroll to Top