Charles White (1918-1979)

Charles White, Dream Deferred, I Have a Dream Series #2, 1968, pen & ink on paper, 57 1/8 x 43 inches.

Charles White is considered one of the finest artists in the American canon. He possessed great technical skill and talent as well as the ability to infuse his work with spirituality and purpose.  Eschewing the prevailing art styles and trends, he chose instead to focus on the lives and struggles of African Americans.

“In his search to express what was real and human-centered in the lives of people who were often forgotten, downtrodden, weary, and worn, White looked to the spiritual side of things, echoing the unknown black folk artists who created Negro spirituals, the blues songs, and the musical laments of the slave era,” said David C. Driskell in the foreword to Charles White by Andrea Barnwell.

James Porter, in his introduction in Images of Dignity: The Drawings of Charles White, said, “I like to think of Charles White not just as an artist—or even as an American artist—but as an artist who more than any other, has found a way of embodying in his art the very texture of the Negro experience as found in life in America.”

In 1972 Homage to Langston Hughes, an oil on canvas painting White executed the year before, won the National Academy of Design’s Isaac N. Maynard Prize at its 147th Annual Exhibition.  Two years later White became only the second African American artist to be elected Academician by the National Academy of Design (Henry O. Tanner was the first when he was elected in 1927).  Founded in 1925 the National Academy of Design is the oldest art organization in America.

Charles White’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Howard University Gallery, Washington, DC; Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, Michigan; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Deutsche Academie der Kunste, Berlin, Germany; and Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia; among others.