Charles White’s Powerful Portraits of Black America

The artist created what his gallerist, and later he, called ‘images of dignity’ while portraying African American life in the US. He was part of Chicago’s flourishing black artistic community in the 30s, believing that ‘art must be an integral part of the struggle’. His work is being celebrated in the centenary year of his birth at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

’I am interested in the social, even the propaganda, angle in painting; but I feel that the job of everyone in a creative field is to picture the whole scene’

Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man), 1973. Photograph: © The Charles White Archives Inc

‘Paint is the only weapon I have with 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’

Love Letter III, 1977. Photograph: © The Charles White Archives Inc.

’My major concern is to get my work before common, ordinary people; for me to be accepted as a spokesman for my people; for my work to portray them better, and to be rich and meaningful to them. A work of art was meant to belong to people, not to be a single person’s private possession. Art should take its place as one of the necessities of life, like food, clothing and shelter’

Gideon, 1951. Photograph: © The Charles White Archives Inc.

’I think art should be owned by the people, by everybody; I think it should be part and parcel of the ownership of the buildings of the citizens’

Sound of Silence, 1978. Photograph: © The Charles White Archives Inc.

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