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 Charles Robert Searles  (1937 - 2004)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: ethnic genre painting, sculpture, art education

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Born in Philadelphia, and living in New York from 1978 on, Charles Searles received his undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania and his art education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, graduating with honors.  He has traveled and exhibited in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.  Searles has been on many public art panels, taught art workshops, and at Pratt Institute.  Other teaching experiences include Jersey City State College, Bloomfield College, and the University of The Arts in Philadelphia, where he taught for nineteen years.

Searles was involved with sculpture, painting, and drawing.  He completed seven public commissions and has fulfilled eight commission for Long Island Rail Road in New York.

"My works are primarily boldly painted wood sculptures which are free-standing or hang on a wall. I use flat planes as well as curved surfaces and, although the forms are constantly changing, some things are often used such as ovular holes in the sculpture (which, for me, suggest eyes.) The pieces have been said to convey masks, dancers, music, or rhythms. They also have a strong cultural identity that has been called African, Asian, Native American, Caribbean, and more. Therefore, I entitled the four sculptures at the Dempsey Center Cultural Harmony." -- Searles, 1990

Searles is represented in many museum and corporate collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Montclair Museum of Art, New Jersey; Dallas Museum of Art; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, Philadelphia; Howard University, Washington, DC; ARCO Chemical, AT&T and First Pennsylvania Bank.

Charles Searles died in 2004.

Sources include:
Additional information courtesy of Lawrence Ditizio

Biography from Jim's Of Lambertville:
Charles Searles (1937-2004)
He was born in Philadelphia PA and received his fine art education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art from 1969-72.  He also attended U Penn for liberal arts studies, where he worked in the labs beside the scientists and engineers creating technical illustrations for text books.  His early paintings embraced the tumultuous 60's, and also reflected his own family life and surroundings.

Before graduating the PAFA, Searles received the Cresson Memorial traveling Scholarship, and the following year, the Ware Memorial Traveling Scholarship.  He was the first student to use these funds to travel to Africa.  His travels in Africa marked his life and work forever – the life, the rhythms, the patterns, and the energy.

Searles then returned to Philadelphia, and began teaching at the Ile Ife Cultural Center.  It was then that he began his “Dancer” Series.  This series marked a change in his life, celebrating his new sense of renewal and the African experience.  He was awarded his first mural commission at the William G. Green Federal Building. This work, entitled “Celebration” is still on view today.  At that time, he was also hired as a drawing teacher at the (then) Philadelphia College of Art, where he remained a professor for over twenty years.

In 1978 Searles moved to New York City.  He found a large, raw space, an old sewing factory, on Broadway and Bleeker where he would remain for the rest of his life.  He continued to commute to Philadelphia teaching part time.  He met Kathleen Spicer, an art student, in 1983.  They married in 1985.  Together they shared a wonderful, open, artistic, social and creative experience.

Searles then gradually moved away from painting and into sculpture.  His sculptures maintained the vibrant color and patterns from his paintings, but seemed to dance in three dimensions.  These new works embodied a live sense of rhythm and energy – trademarks that he maintained throughout his career, whether in wood, bronze, or aluminum.

In his lifetime, Charles Searles participated in over 60 group shows, and 25 solo exhibitions.  He was represented by the Sande Webster Gallery in Philadelphia for over 20 years.  His paintings and sculptures can be found in innumerable public and private collections.  Public commissions include the Delaware River Port Authority, the NYC Mass Transit Authority, the First District Plaza in Philadelphia, and the Amtrack station in Newark NJ.  He was the recipient of many awards, including ones from the Pollock – Krasner Foundation, The Adolph and Esther Gottleib Foundation, the Creative Arts Project Fellowship, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

His wife of 23 years, Kathleen Spicer adds “Charles was his work, and his work was him. Inseparable. Our lives were all about art. We lived each day as if it was a gift. To me he was enchanted. His vision was clear – he could envision something and make it come to life as easy as breathing. Genius. Charles made the world a better place. Charles speaks loud and clear.

Bio courtesy of Kathleen Spicer (Searles)

Selected Periodical Citations:
Newhall, Edith, Dual Celebration of self-expression. Philadelphia Enquirer, May 2013
Fabbri, Anne, A farewell to Charles Searles. Art Matters, January 2005
Cornell University, Review. Cornell University Review, August 2000
O'Neill, Denise I., Black Experience puts Soul into the Heart of Christmas. Chicago Sun-Times, December 1996
Gleuck, Grace, Review. The New York Times, December 1996
McBride, Octavia, An Artist Acclaimed. Philadelphia Tribune, April 1993
Fox, Catherine, National Black Arts Festival Program Guide. The Atlanta Journal, July 1990
Wilson, William, Black Artists in tune with Ancestors. Los Angeles Times, January 1990
Jamusch, Ann, Special Show-Legacy of Black Art. Dallas Times Herald, January 1990
Binkley, Barbara, Colors, Bright and Bold. The Daily News, April 1986
Grafly, Dorothy, Charles Searles at Neumans. ART in Focus, Summer 1978
Crittendon, Denise, Back Home from Nigeria. The Michigan Chronicle, December 1977
Garrett, Bob, Art Section Review. Boston Sunday Herald, November 1975
Patry, Louise, A Jubilee of Afro-American Art in Boston. New England Journal, December 1975
Wright, Charles, Paint Art Racist. The Village Voice, April 1971
Nelson, Nells, Black Artists rise Above the Tempest. Philadelphia Daily News, April 1971
Canaday, John, Black Artist on View in Two Exhibitions.
The New York Times, February 1970

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