From a broken home in Chicago, Ill., White found that he could draw at the age of seven. He studied violin for many years acquiring a permanent love for music. An avid reader, he once said “A book that fascinated me and opened up new vistas, was Dr. Alain Locke’s The New Negro. I had never realized that Negro people had done so much in the world of culture, that they had contributed so much to the development of America, it became a kind of secret life, a new world of facts and ideas.”
White studied at the Chicago Art Institute and the Art Students League. By completing the course, White qualified for employment with the Works Project Administration (WPA), it was during these year that he learned the desire to use his craft in altering the preconceived “Black image” in America. In 1941, White married sculptor Elizabeth Catlett while at Dillard University in New Orleans. In 1942, the two came to New York City and White developed an influential relationship with Viktor Lowenfeld, an Austrian psychologist.
Through this relationship, White enhanced his work; he discovered the reason he painted as he did and other therapeutic values of the expression. It was during this time that Sepia and White became his trademark. Some of Charles White’s vast artistic contributions include Awaiting His Return 1943 (shown), Goodnight Irene 1952, Awaken from Unknowing 1961, Two Brothers have I had on Earth 1965, Wanted Poster no. 3 1969, Homage to Langston Hughes 1971, and Harriet 1972. One of the finest draftsmen in modern America, White was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1972.
A spirited yet frail man, Charles White taught at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles from 1965 until his death in 1979.
A History of African-American Artist from 1792 to present
by Romare Bearden & Harry Henderson
Copyright 1993 by Romare Bearden & Harry Henderson
Pantheon Books, NY