Mose Tolliver


Mose worked a variety of jobs throughout his life, primarily as a gardener and general handyman. While sweeping up for a furniture company in the 1970's, a load of marble fell on Mose's legs, crushing them. While recovering from an injury, and perhaps inspired by an art show his former employer took him to, Mose began to paint. He'd sit in his front yard, painting the neighborhood children, and hanging his paintings in his front yard, hoping to sell them for a dollar or two, or perhaps trade them for a bag of rice to a passerby.

Word spread, and eventually Mose developed a reputation as an artist. In 1982, Mose Tolliver was included in the seminal "Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980" show at the Smithsonian's Corcoran Gallery. This cemented Mose's place as one of the major self-taught artists of the 20th century.

Mose generally painted in muted colors, and since he didn't wash out his brushes, they often blended together. While his earlier work covered a wide variety of subjects, including narrative paintings of moments from his life, his more recent work seems limited to a set of standard images, including self portraits (both straightforward self portraits with walking sticks, and his "fierce" portraits), a variety of birds and other animals, watermelons, and his famous "erotic" paintings. Despite these standard forms, Mose was a tremendous colorist, and he'd frequently do several versions of the same image, altering the colors of each other to enjoy the variation.

On Mose's "Moose Ladies": according to Mose (as told to Marcia Weber), he used to paint neighborhood children on tricycles. Art patrons misinterpreted these paintings as women impaling themselves on erotic devices. Since Mose thought that was what the buying public wanted, he began painting his "Moose Ladies" with their spread legs and "exercise racks." Mose's erotic imagination knows no bounds, so you'll find some very interesting (to say the least) images in his work.

Mose painted from his bed, and would put his works on his bedroom wall for sale. Collectors should be aware that Mose has always been well known for farming out work to his relatives. They paint many of the paintings, and he signed his name to them and sold them as his own work. Works by Mose's family members can be found in many galleries for sale as Mose T originals, and in many museums. Often art dealers would ask Mose to do specific paintings as would curators putting together museum shows. Mose hated being told what to paint, so these assignments would go to one of his children, who would then paint the work and turn it over to Mose to be signed.