Unbelievably perhaps, by the turn of the 21st century it had been well over thirty years since the last major publication on Charles White (that being his 1967 monograph, Images of Dignity). In 2002 Pomegranate Publications published its first instalment of The David C. Driskell Series of African American Art, Charles White, written by Andrea D. Barnwell. It was in many respects the most comprehensive monograph to date on the celebrated, late Los Angeles-based African-American artist Charles White. Extensively illustrated, the flyleaf of the publication contained the following text:
As the debut volume in the highly anticipated David C. Driskell series of African American Art, Charles White sets a remarkable standard for the volumes to follow. Filled with drawings and paintings - many of which have never been published before - and scholarly text by Andrea D. Barnwell, this monograph encapsulates the spirit, vision, and extraordinary brilliance of White’s powerful art.
Charles White (1918 - 1979) intentionally and unapologetically dedicated his life and work to conveying the concerns, sentiments, and beauty of African Americans, always realistically portraying his subjects with the dignity they so richly deserved but were so often denied. Through universal themes he interpreted and presented the humanitarian and social issues of his time by examining the heroism, struggles, hopes, histories, and triumphs of black people.
Barnwell discusses White's regard as an artist and chronicles his career as he pursued artistic excellence, personal integrity, economic freedom, and racial equality.White's works are in the collections of major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia; the Howard University of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Art Institute of Chicago; many are in private collections in the United States, Europe, and Africa.
One of the greatest American artists of the 20th century, Charles White and his place in the annals of art history has not been adequately examined. Charles White (The David C. Driskell Series of African American Art: Volume 1) is an important step in ensuring the legacy of this seminal artist and singular man.
David C. Driskell, retired as distinguished University Professor of Art Emeritus from the University of Maryland, where he taught for twenty-two years, is a painter and the author of several essays and books. His own paintings are in many public and private collections throughout the world. A noted curator, scholar, and lecturer, Driskell is also a collector of art; an exhibition of his personal collection has toured museums in the United States.
Andrea D. Barnwell, an art historian, writer, and critic, spent many years as the Director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. Her primary research interests are African American, Black British, and Contemporary African art. Her writings have been featured in major publications, including To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Rhapsodies in Black: The Art of the Harlem Renaissance, and African Americans in Art: Selections from The Art Institute of Chicago. In 1990 she organized and was the principal author of The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art. Her critical writings have appeared in numerous journals, such as the International Review of African American Art, African Arts, and NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art. She is the recipient of numerous academic and scholarly awards, including a MacArthur Curatorial Fellowship in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Art Institute of Chicago. Barnwell, an alumna of Spelman College, completed her master's and doctoral degrees in art history from Duke University.
The book's contents were as follows:
Foreword, by David C. Driskell
Chapter One - Chicago: The Early Years
Chapter Two - From New York to Los Angeles
Chapter Three - At Home in California
Charles White Chronology
From the Foreword:
"...Paramount in White's search for art that was solid and permanent, art informing both himself and his public, was the seriousness with which he engaged in making art and showing its relevance to the human condition. This led him to anchor most of his works in patterns of realism. In realism he could pursue the narrative and avoid the untested ways of emerging modernism. While White never fully embraced the tenets of modernism, he did experiment with a modified form of cubism, moving his work in and out of a style uniquely adaptable to geometric abstraction. He needed neither tricks of the craft nor whimsical art formulas to articulate his consummate vision, the vision of the insider. During nearly five decades, works such as Native Son, The Worker, Preacher, and Woman Worker, all carefully crafted in style and form, revealed the heart and soul of his creativity in one of the strongest figural traditions in American Art."
The book's cover image was Ye Shall Inherit the Earth, 1953, charcoal on paper, 39 x 26 in. Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York.