I was recently in North Carolina and came across a painting by Charles White at the Nasher Museum of Art that had remained in a collector’s private possession since the work was originally sold in 1958. Seeing newly uncovered work is always a thrill, especially as Los Angeles is the latest host for White’s career retrospective which recently opened at LACMA.
I believe this particular piece was created shortly after White moved to Los Angeles-these years are of particular interest to me because it was during this time that his influence reached contemporary artists including David Hammons and Kerry James Marshall. Marshall’s tribute to Charles White, which was originally published in the Art Institute’s Catalog of the traveling retrospective, is one of the most touching, thoughtful, and informative artist essays I’ve ever read.
Charles White influenced Marshall at a very young age, when he first encountered White’s work during Black History Week when Marshall saw White’s work in a book called Great Negroes, Past and Present. Since then their lives intersected at various points throughout Marshall’s career, including a serendipitous re-appearance of the very same book decades later during a pivotal point in the artist’s life.
The Paris Review published Marshall’s essay, which I consider critical reading for anyone planning to see the White retrospective or for anyone who wants to learn more about White’s legacy.