Resnick Pavillion, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
On view through June 9, 2019
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Written by Cathy Breslaw
March 31, 2019
Charles White unites masterful skill as a draftsman, painter, printmaker and muralist with a deep passion for portraying the life and struggles of African Americans. Spanning four decades to 1979 when he died, White’s expressive figurative works of powerful images beginning with the labor movement of the 1930’s, and the issues of race, inequality and social politics remain relevant today. This retrospective is loosely organized in chronological order and arranged by city where White spent his time: primarily Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. On view are approximately 100 drawings, paintings, lithographs and photographs as well as audio recordings of occasional lectures White gave at LACMA while he lived and taught in Los Angeles. This retrospective, curated by Ilene Susan Fort, Curator Emerita of American Art includes 13 works in LACMA’s permanent collection.
With sometimes startling sensitivity, White’s works exude a depth of feeling and intimacy that only someone who has personal familiarity and direct experience can depict. Some of his earlier paintings appear influenced by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, rendering images of the labor movement as well as the U.S. Communist Party in which White was politically active describing racism and social inequality.
Sojourner Truth and Booker T. Washington (1943, pencil on illustration board 37” x 27.5”) is a study for the mural Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America. ,” located at Hampton University in Virginia – a depiction of a historical scene spanning centuries, showing black Union soldiers marching alongside the folk singer Leadbelly, captured in the midst of performance, while George Washington Carver works away in his lab.
General Moses (Harriet Tubman) 1965 ink on paper 47” x 68” and I Have a Dream, 1976 lithograph on paper 22.5” x 30” highlight a few of the historical figures depicted in black and white monumental images that capture our attention. Aside from these two works, there are many more with historical reference to important African Americans – both men and women, young and old, from the arena of politics, entertainment, social activism, to anonymous street figures.
White is one of the most important American artists of the mid-twentieth century whose expressive figures communicate feelings of dignity and grace, and a remarkable combination of beauty, form and scale. His universal subject matter continues the dialogue about the history and culture of African Americans.
For more information about the exhibition visit https://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/charles-white-retrospective