The drawings look stripped-down yet richly dense: Traylor relied on basic geometric forms that he filled in with crayon or paint or colored pencil. The coloring gives the figures an airy sensuousness. He had his own formal shorthand. Human torsos are boxy, like placards, printed with whatever the shirt or jacket or dress pattern might be. The guy whose woman is giving him a hard time sports a placket with four pert black buttons. One woman, hook-nosed like most of Traylor’s figures, carries a handbag, her skirt a trapezoid, her green-blouse torso a square, and capping all this is an umbrella modeled on the capitol dome.
Some Exciting Events are Traylor’s reworking of church-meeting configurations of preacher and congregants or anecdotal scenes like the one of a hatchet-wielding lady chasing a turkey. There’s also a fair amount of public boozing on display. One tipsy gentleman knocks back his half-pint while balancing on a dainty, uplifted foot. The bigger fun for us, though, is following the artist’s hand as it roughs out the figure’s outline then fills in the physique with swirling, mottled sepia marks that are a gestural imagining of skeleton and muscle. Traylor liked to pose figures, even sober ones, at a tipping point, barely holding their balance on quarter-moon legs pegged daintily to the ground. The figures perched on platforms, hovering like raucous angels, or pitching down with zippy speed, have an antic grace, spirited and angular, a little lost but game for life, holding on to their tiny purchase.
Intending to help Traylor upgrade or “professionalize” his materials, Shannon gave him fresh, store-bought poster board, but he didn’t like it. Traylor preferred distressed surfaces fatigued with use, and he sometimes played with the irregularly shaped cardboard signs he scavenged from the trash or found on sidewalks; a torn, rounded edge will rhyme, say, with the shape of a bull’s horns or a mule’s torso. Traylor’s stark, excited energy thins out in the late pictures. He spent his last years traveling to visit his scattered children in Philadelphia, Detroit, and elsewhere, and his health was failing. (He lost a leg to diabetes.) But the drawings he made in his prime are tight little songs of praise. One of my favorites depicts a slinky, elongated rabbit running across its improvised space. Like so much of Traylor’s work, it’s blunt, radical, and quickened with comic grace. ■