I acquired this sign after attending the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1995. “Big Al” Talpet shined shoes in downtown New Orleans and painted signs to attract business and to sell. By the mid-1990s he had been discovered by purveyors of the market for “outsider art.” I purchased this item and a few others at Peligro! Folk Art Gallery. The gallery expected an influx of business due to the AFS meeting and arranged for “Big Al” to hang out in the gallery, so I was able to discuss his work with him and have our picture taken.
Not entirely content to allow Taplet’s work to speak for itself, the gallery organized a project in which Chicago-based pop artist Peter Mars would decorate a painting surface then send it to the gallery which would engage Taplet to “complete” it. On the back of this 24×20 inch piece of plywood Mars sketched a child playing with a toy and addressed the board to the gallery. On the top and bottom borders of the front he printed some patterns. Taplet reveals his disinterest in this imposed collaboration by painting over the bottom border entirely and shading out the top as well. When I asked him about the markings on the board which are clearly not in his own style, he began to tell me about the project but interrupted himself and said, simply, that he painted the sign.
Mr. Taplet and his family, like so many other African Americans, were displaced from their home in New Orleans by hurricane Katrina and moved to Texas. His fate since then has been difficult to track.