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Charles White

 (1918 - 1979)
Charles Wilbert White was active/lived in Illinois, New York, California.  Charles White is known for black-American figure and genre and mural painting.

Charles White

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Charles White
The following, submitted June 2005, is from Charlotte Sherman, exhibition catalogue biographer of the artist.

Charles Wilbert White was an artist of his people. He always insisted upon the dignity of the individual and respect for the human being. As a spiritual product of his race and environment, he reflected the fact that his grandfather was a slave in Mississippi and his mother had lived most of her life in the South, where little had changed from her father's day.

His respect for men, women and children was apparent in this search for the meaning of truth in terms of the daily life and the beauty that can be found through his drawings, paintings and prints. A warm understanding of the meaning of existence, man's aspirations and sorrows, his inner spirit, but above all his dignity, form the central core of Charles White's love affair with life. He is quoted as saying, "Paint is the only weapon that I have that which to fight what I resent. If I could write, I would write about it. If I could talk, I would talk about it. Since I paint, I must paint about it."

Charles White was born in 1918 in Chicago, where the family had migrated from the South. His parents were Ethel Gary and Charles White Sr., a Creek Indian. He lived and worked in his studio in Altadena, CA. for his last 20 years, until he died in Los Angeles in 1979.

His youth was spent in Chicago. His mother, a domestic worker, took young Charles to work with her. One day to keep him out of mischief she bought him a set of oil paints, which he then proceeded to use on the window shades. His earliest painting dates to when he was only seven years old.

His solace in a difficult life was the drawing board, and he continued to paint and draw as much as possible. He entered a nationwide high-school contest and won first prize. Later he applied for a scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago and was granted scholarship for full-time study.

After his studies, Charles White was able to work professionally with other artists with the WPA. In 1939 under the auspices of the W.P.A. he painted the mural, "Five Great American Negroes" for the Cleveland Branch of the Chicago Public Library. This same years he exhibited at Howard University and received a commission from the Associate Negro Press to do the mural, "History of the Press" for the American Negro Exposition, Chicago.

Now the artist was able to speak about the Negro heroes of American history and their contribution to American life. As a W.P.A.painter, Charles White would show Booker T. Washington, educator; Frederick Douglass, statesman; George Washington Carver, scientist; and Marian Anderson, singer, on the same mural.

His works of art are found in museums throughout the United States, Germany, Africa and Japan. A partial list includes: Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Howard University Museum; Atlanta University Museum; Oakland Museum; Tuskegee Institute.; American Federation of the Arts; Academy of Arts and Letters; Hirshhorn Museum, Taller de Grafica, Mexico City; Deutsche Academy der K√ľnste, Berlin; Dresden Museum of Art.

Benjamin Horowitz, "Images of Dignity, Drawings of Charles White", 1967; Sherman, Charlotte Sherman, "Charles White, Images of Dignity", exhibition catalogue, Bakersfield Museum of Art, February 26, 2004 - May 3, 2004.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Charles White worked as a sign painter and founded the Arts and Crafts Guild with George Neal. He taught at the Chicago Community Art Center in the mid-1930s and in 1937 received a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked as a W.P.A. muralist and studied mural painting in New York at the Art Students League. He became involved with Rivera and other Mexican muralists. Focused on social issues of black people, he formed the Committee for the Negro in Arts in New York in 1949. In the 1950s, he achieved international reputation as a draftsman and for graphics.

Source: Eileen Kinsella, 'The Rise of African-American Art', "ARTnews", September 2003

Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
Biography photo for Charles White
Charles White was born in Chicago and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1937-38), the Art Students League (1942), and Taller de Grafica in Mexico (1946). From 1939 to 1940, he worked as a mural painter for the Illinois Federal Arts Project. Inspired by Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and Leopold Mendez, White initially gained recognition for his social realist murals documenting milestones in black history.

The recipient of numerous honors and awards, White received two Rosenwald Fellowships in 1942 and 1943, which enabled him to travel throughout the South. In 1944, he was drafted into the United States Army, but was given medical discharge when he developed tuberculosis. By this time, White was well-known for his meticulous draftsmanship and in 1947, he had his first solo exhibition at the American Contemporary Art (ACA) Gallery in New York City.

From the late 1940s onward, White?s drawings, paintings, and prints focused on African-American history and culture, and often depict ordinary men and women bearing difficult circumstances with dignity and calm. As James A. Porter observed, "White was one of the great voices among black Americans who [were] among the real interpreters of the American Negro."

In 1972, White was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design, the second African-American artist to be appointed since Henry Ossawa Tanner. Towards the end of his life, White was weakened by respiratory insufficiency. However, he continued to work until his death at the age of sixty-one.

In 2002, Pomegranate Press released Charles White, the first volume in The David C. Driskell Series of African-American Art.

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About  Charles White

Born:  1918 - Chicago, Illinois
Died:   1979 - Los Angeles, California
Known for:  black-American figure and genre and mural painting

Essays referring to
Charles White

Black American Artists