The Phillips Collects: Mose Tolliver and Joe Light

The Phillips Collection recently acquired paintings by Mose Tolliver and Joe Light. These two gifts from Gail B. Greenblatt were part of the collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the work of Black artists from the American South and supporting their communities by fostering economic empowerment and racial and social justice.

Mose Tolliver (b. 1925, Pike Road, AL; d. 2006, Montgomery, AL),  Snake, no date, Acrylic on plywood, 24 x 23 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift from Gail B. Greenblatt

Mose Tolliver is one of the earliest Black folk artists to receive popular acclaim, following his first solo show in 1980 at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. The son of tenant farmers, Tolliver first explored his creative talents as a landscape gardener. In the 1960s, when an accident left him unable to walk, Tolliver began to paint voraciously. His brightly colored works include images of animals, women, plants, and religious subjects. Snake is built up from wet-on-wet layers of lively rhythmic brushstrokes.

Joe Light ( b. 1934, Dyersburg, TN; d. 2005, Memphis, TN), Bird and Dog, no date, Acrylic on plywood, 23 x 11 1/4 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift from Gail B. Greenblatt

Joe Louis Light took up art after his discharge from the US Army in the 1950s and later release from prison for armed robbery. Finding salvation in religion, Light turned his attention to making signs, driftwood sculptures, and paintings that evoke his deeply personal spiritual and political views. In Bird and Dog, Light composed the scene in three horizontal bands that symbolically suggest a type of ascension from the material to the spiritual world.

“These two paintings will be the first by Joe Light and Mose Tolliver to enter the collection, and further the Phillips’s commitment to broadening the art historical canon. They provide compelling juxtapositions with a range of historical and contemporary artists in the collection, including Morris Graves, Grandma Moses, Horace Pippin, and Albert Pinkham Ryder, as well as the five Gee’s Bend quilts acquired in 2019.” Elsa Smithgall, Chief Curator