Charles White died in 1979. In the early summer of the previous year, Negro History Bulletin [Washington DC Vol. 41, Number 3, (May-June 1978): 825-828] carried a substantial feature on the artist. Written by Jeffrey Elliot, the piece was titled “Charles White: Portrait of an Artist”, and ran to some four pages. For the most part, the feature was an interview between White and Elliott and contained two reproductions of White’s work, as well as a photograph of White, taken by Richard Todd.
The piece began, “Perhaps the most gifted black artist America has ever produced, Charles White stands as a striking example of the heroic qualities which typify his work. Unlike many artists who view detachment as a virtue, White seeks to capture the struggles of his people. Indeed, his art is far more than mere draftsmanship – far more than the creative elements of line, shape, point, color, texture… It is, at its essence, the story of survival, both White’s own struggle and that of his people.
Charles White is a genuine American article. He lives and breathes the ideals which nourish the American spirit. And yet, fundamentally, he is a citizen of the world; a man who thinks and feels the illusive bond of brotherhood. While White could easily be described as America’s premier black artist he is also a poet, a philosopher, a musician, a sculptor; a renaissance talent whose art is the product of man’s noblest instincts and most cherished longings – love, kindness, hope, understanding, trust. The following interview reveals much about this artist’s talents, his sterling character and his concerns.
This was a very useful, wide-ranging and highly informative text. Typical, in this regard, was the following question and its answer:
ELLIOTT: Do you see your work as having an appeal beyond your own people?
WHITE:Yes. I like to think that my work has a universality to it. I deal with love, hope, courage, freedom, dignity – the full gamut of the human spirit. When I work, though, I think of my own people. That’s only natural. However, my philosophy doesn’t exclude any nation or race of people. I do have a special concern for my own people – their history, their culture, their struggle to survive in this, a racist country. And I’m proud of being black!