A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Celebrating Charles White

SAIC alum Charles White’s (SAIC 1937–38) work is featured in an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Charles White, Sound of Silence, 1978
Charles White (SAIC 1937–38), "Sound of Silence," 1978, color lithograph on white wove paper

April 2, 2018, marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of prominent African American painter and graphic designer Charles White (SAIC 1937–38). On June 8, 2018, the Art Institute of Chicago brings together a selection of White’s finest paintings, drawings, and prints for the exhibition Charles White: A Retrospective.

Born in Chicago and educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), White was part of the city’s flourishing Black artistic community of the 1930s. He was determined to employ art in the struggle for social change, declaring, “Paint is the only weapon I have with which to fight what I resent.” Influenced by Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera, White completed several important mural commissions in the city, including one for a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

White powerfully interpreted African American history, culture, and lives over the course of his four-decade career. His work magnified the power of the Black figure through scale and form, communicating universal human themes while also focusing attention on the lives of African Americans and the struggle for equality.

Alongside fellow SAIC alumni, Margaret Burroughs (BA 1942, MA 1948, HON 1987), Eldzier Cortor (SAIC 1936–37), George Neal (SAIC 1935–36), William Carter (SAIC 1930), Elizabeth Catlett (SAIC 1941), Charles Sebree (SAIC 1935), and Richmond Barthé (SAIC 1924–27), White was among the founders of and a teacher at the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC), which was instrumental in launching and supporting the careers of many African American artists.

The exhibition, which runs through September 3, is the first major retrospective of White’s work in more than 35 years, showcasing an accomplished artist whose work continues to resonate amid today’s national dialogues about race, work, equality, and history.