So much was his art a part of his daily life that his works absorbed the stuff it contained—the metal parts, cloth, toys, chicken wire, wood, and other matter he encountered. For many, the content of Dial’s work and his status as an outsider, when combined with the expressive, semi-abstract compositions that sometimes recall the New York School of Abstract Expressionists, made him a “crossover” artist between folk and fine art. His work, in fact, drew far more heavily on the assemblage traditions of African-American Southern yard art.
But the legacy he leaves is in the magnificent works themselves. And the sprawling, towering, glutted sculptures, assemblages, and paintings—and swirling, whimsical drawings—that make up his prolific output demand us to put these binaries aside, without obscuring the specific context in which they were created. “His work has an immediacy and freedom that engages viewers and connects them to a depth of emotion and experience,” says the gallerist Marianne Boesky
, who recently added Dial to her roster. “It’s an ability that cannot be taught, that comes from having something meaningful to say about life—and choosing to say it through art. That Mr. Dial moved so ably between media only further reflects the power of his creativity.” Below are five of his later works that encapsulate some of the numerous media, styles, themes, and motifs in Dial’s restlessly creative oeuvre.