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Charles White: Black Realism in Art

January 2, 2014
Two Brothers Have I Had On Earth

Two Brothers Have I Had On Earth

Realism in art can communicate messages so powerfully because it easily enables viewers to connect with images and subject matter on an emotional and human level.  For this reason, African American artist Charles White (1918-1979) purposely chose not to follow the post World War II art movement of Abstract Expressionism which became big business for many.

Awaken from the Unknowing

Awaken from the Unknowing

The power behind Whites’ message in his artwork lies in creating large-scale portraits aimed at overcoming racial prejudice and ignorance.  Furthermore, White wanted to give Black people a sense of self-worth, honor, and courage.  Consequently, White produced portraits of ordinary Black people on a heroic scale while also incorporating elements of spirituality.

Harvest Talk

Harvest Talk

As a child growing up in Chicago, White was encouraged by art students attending The Art Institute. The young artist-to-be observed them at work and finished his first painting of a landscape using a window blind he dismantled from his home as a canvas. Although this initially upset his mother, she realized his talent afterwards and kept the painting until her death.

White participated in the Works Projects Administration program launched in 1939 under FDR’s New Deal.

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