“Charles White: The Politics of Print” was an important and concise consideration of Charles White’s print-related work, by John P. Murphy. It appeared in an issue of Print Quarterly, published in June 2019 (Vol. XXXVI, no. 2). This was an engrossing, hugely informative scholarly text, centered on Charles White’s print works and the frequently realized potential of these works to reach all manner of audiences, both within and beyond the US. This was an extensively illustrated text, which sought to set White’s work into a number of social, political and artistic contexts. To this end, the accompanying illustrations included Morris Topchevsky, Art Class, 1941 etching and aquatint, and Harry Sternberg, Southern Holiday, 1935, lithograph.
An extract from the text, as follows:
These [leftist] political commitments found expression in his art. Charles White: Six Drawings, published by Masses and Mainstream in 1953, represented the full flowering of White’s naturalist turn in the early 1950s. the affordable portfolio (it sold for $3) made available ready-to-frame reproductions of sic ink-and-charcoal drawings” The Mother, Dawn of Life, Let’s Walk Together, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth, Harvest Talk and Lincoln. ‘I was happy’, White wrote, ‘when I learned that the portfolio of drawings reproduced by Masses and Mainstream had reached many lands, and was helping my people to be understood tens of thousands of miles away’, White considered himself ‘a success’ when he heard that a ‘group of share-croppers and factory workers in Alabama had combined whatever coins they had to buy a folio, had shared the pictures among themselves, and passed them from home to home”. In his review of the portfolio for Masses and Mainstream, [Philip] Evergood similarly stressed the accessibility of the reproductions at a time when,
The problem of getting art to the people has been a subject of serious thought on the part of progressive artists, educators, trade-unionists… We are fortunate that modern technology has been able to help in this effort at mass distribution of art, available to the people.
This was as mentioned, an engrossing, hugely informative scholarly text, which placed particular emphasis on White’s socially engaged practices and some related international dimensions. A very useful and lively text.
Later on, in this same issue of Print Quarterly there was a review of the major publication, Charles White: A Retrospective. Written by Judith Brodie, the review (which was accompanied by three sizeable reproductions, one of which was full page) was spread over five pages and was a particularly appreciative appraisal, the concluding sentiments of which were,
In a review of the recent exhibition, critic Philip Kennicott wrote, ‘Race was a major factor in the egregious failure to calibrate the real worth of [White’s] work, not just because he was black, but because he took up black life as his subject’. This worthy catalogue goes far to counteract that failure. (235)