Truth and Beauty

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery fea­tures works by Charleswhite along­side those of his artis­tic friends

American Fine Art Magazine - - Gallery Preview: New York, Ny -

Charles White (1918-1979) was given his first set of oil paints by his mother when he was 7 years old.when they would travel into the city from Chicago’s South Side, she would drop him off at the Chicago Pub­lic Li­brary since, even then, he was such a vo­ra­cious reader. Of­ten, he would take a break and walk across the street to the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago to look at the paint­ings.

At the li­brary he had re­solved to start with A and work his way through the al­pha­bet, a task he didn’t com­plete. Spared the fate of his grand­mother and other rel­a­tives who were slaves in the south, he did, how­ever, live in a di­vided city and was no stranger to racism. On his jour­neys through the stacks of the li­brary when he was 14 years old he came across

Alain Locke’s The New Ne­gro which in­stilled in him a sense of pride in his her­itage.white wrote,“i had never re­al­ized that Ne­gro peo­ple had done so much in the world of cul­ture, that they had con­trib­uted so much to the de­vel­op­ment of Amer­ica, it be­came a kind of se­cret life, a new world of facts and ideas.”

He con­tin­ued, “For a while I kept this new­found knowl­edge to my­self. It be­came a kind of se­cret life, a new world of facts and ideas in di­a­met­ric op­po­si­tion to what was be­ing taught in the class­rooms and text­books as un­ques­tion­able truth. But then, the clash be­gan to come out in the open. “I would ask my teach­ers why they never men­tioned a Ne­gro in his­tory. I would bring up the name of Cris­pus At­tucks, the first mar­tyr of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion of 1776, or of Den­mark Ve­sey, Nat Turner and Fred­er­ick Dou­glass…the his­to­ries from which we were taught, they would say, were writ­ten by com­pe­tent peo­ple, and what­ever they did not men­tion was sim­ply not im­por­tant enough to men­tion.when I spoke up about these ig­nored great fig­ures, I would be told to sit down and shut up. In pub­lic speak­ing classes, when­ever I had a chance to speak, it would be about these dis­cov­er­ies of mine.

The other Ne­gro stu­dents were of­ten em­bar­rassed by this. It had been deeply in­grained in them as in me in my first school years, that to be a Ne­gro was some­thing of which to be ashamed;

that the Ne­gro peo­ple were an in­fe­rior peo­ple, il­lit­er­ate, un­couth.”

White con­tin­ued to speak up and to ex­press him­self in paint­ings, draw­ings and prints, be­com­ing an elo­quent voice for his gen­er­a­tion. In 1972 he was elected to the Na­tional Academy of De­sign.

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York is show­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion Truth & Beauty: Charles White and His Cir­cle, through Novem­ber 10.The ex­hi­bi­tion “fea­tures the work of Charles White along with a se­lec­tion of works from his artis­tic cir­cle of friend­ships that in­clude John Big­gers, Eldzier Cor­tor, Roy Decar­ava, Philip Ever­good, Robert Gwath­mey, David Ham­mons, Ja­cob Lawrence, Nor­man Lewis, Be­tye Saar, Ben Shahn, and Hale Woodruff.” The ex­hi­bi­tion runs con­cur­rently with the first mu­seum ret­ro­spec­tive of his work in 30 years, Charles White: A Ret­ro­spec­tive, at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art through Jan­uary 13.The ret­ro­spec­tive, which be­gan at the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago, will be at the

Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art Fe­bru­ary 16 through Septem­ber 19, 2019. Rosenfeld Gallery notes that “White’s work will also be in­cluded in the trav­el­ing group ex­hi­bi­tion Soul of a Na­tion:art in the Age of Black Power, or­ga­nized by Tate Mod­ern, Lon­don, on dis­play at the Brook­lyn Mu­seum through Fe­bru­ary 3, 2019. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is a proud lender to both of these ex­hi­bi­tions.”

White es­chewed the trend to­ward ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism but ex­plored the con­cept of cu­bism and the work of the Mex­i­can mu­ral­ists Diego

Rivera and José Cle­mente Orozco.

His paint­ings of the ’30s and ’40s, such as an Un­ti­tled work from 1945, re­flect that in­flu­ence. He later turned to ren­der­ing por­traits in a more so­cially re­al­is­tic way as in the strik­ing draw­ing, I Been Re­buked & I Been Scorned.the draw­ing was in­spired by the spir­i­tual of the same name which was sung nine years later by Ma­halia

Jack­son when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. de­liv­ered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Wash­ing­ton, D.c.white’s sit­ter em­bod­ies the pas­sive re­sis­tance ad­vo­cated by Ma­hatma Gandhi decades be­fore and later es­poused by Dr. King.

An­other high­light of the Rosenfeld ex­hi­bi­tion is a 1973 por­trait of Paul Robe­son cre­ated for the bass bari­tone and stage/film ac­tor’s 75th birth­day event at Carnegie Hall.

Both White and Robe­son were called be­fore the House Un-amer­i­can Ac­tiv­i­ties Com­mit­tee (HUAC) for their po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism but, for un­known rea­sons,white’s ap­pear­ance was can­celled.at his ap­pear­ance be­fore HUAC, chaired by Francis E.wal­ter, a Demo­crat from Penn­syl­va­nia, Robe­son said,“my mother was born in your state, Mr.wal­ter, and my mother was a Quaker, and my an­ces­tors in the time of Wash­ing­ton baked bread for Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s troops when they crossed the Delaware, and my own fa­ther was a slave. I stand here strug­gling for the rights of my peo­ple to be full cit­i­zens in this coun­try.and they are not.” White wrote, “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.”

Charles White (1918-1979), Paul Robe­son, 1973. Oil and graphite on illustration board,41½ x 41½ in., signed.Op­po­site page: Charles White (1918-1979),I Been Re­buked & I Been Scorned, 1954. Wolff crayon and char­coal on An­jac illustration board, 43½ x 27¼ in., signed.

Charles White (1918-1979), Juba, 1962. Wolff crayon and char­coal on illustration board, 53¼ x 23¼ in., signed.

Charles White (1918-1979), Juba #2, 1965. Wolff crayon and oil wash on illustration board,25½ x 35 in., signed.

Charles White (1918-1979), Un­ti­tled, 1945. Tem­pera and graphite on illustration board, 145/8 x 241/8 in., signed.

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