Left-leaning, visionary journalists wasted few opportunities to bring features on Charles White into print, in a range of journals. One such, early appreciation of White appeared in this August 1953 issue of Jewish Life, a publication which billed itself as “A Progressive Monthly”. Spread across two pages, the feature, by artist Hugo Gellert, was titled, simply, uncompromisingly, “CHARLES WHITE, PEOPLE’S ARTIST”. The cover of Jewish Life appears alongside this scan of the double page spread itself.
Gellert was a Hungarian-born American artist, illustrator and muralist. He was a dedicated radical and member of the Communist Party of America, whose varied work was committed to political activism. If any admiring, socially motivated commentator was well positioned to write an appreciative piece on White, it was Gellert. His piece in Jewish Life was sub-headed “Drawings by an outstanding Negro artist bespeak love for his own people and for all men of good will. They can now adorn the homes of workers.” This was one of a number of published references to White’s legendary folio of prints published by Masses and Mainstream, New York. The piece was illustrated by two prints from the folio, Dawn of Life, and Let’s Walk Together.
Gellert’s text opened, “Publication of a portfolio of six remarkably beautiful drawings by Charles White marks the first serious venture into the field of art by the progressive press (Masses and Mainstream, 832 Broadway, New York 3, N.Y.). By making available this folio at the incredibly low price of $3.00, the publishers are making it possible for important art to find its way into homes where works of high artistic value are ordinarily beyond reach. The artist Charles White is widely recognized in his field.”
This was an extraordinary and fascinating piece of writing, in that it chastised abstract art, then very much in the ascendancy in New York, as possessing dangerous impulses that carried a certain inhumanity: “But there is also an at least equally harmful and destructive side to these so-called abstract, non-objective, etc., etc., art forms. By their elimination of the human form and their negation of humanism, artists of this type help in their own way to condition the human mind to become reconciled to the possible annihilation of mankind. For there is a connection between destruction of the human form in the abstract and its actual atomic destruction.”
These impulses were negatively contrasted to the work of Charles White, and this wonderfully affirmative piece of writing concluded, “Yes, Charles White embraces all mankind in the glowing warmth of his art. And while many artists find it difficult today to exercise integrity even in the interests of their calling, Charles White has equipped himself to assume responsibilities as a champion of his people, as a citizen and as an artist of this land. And he is fulfilling these responsibilities.”