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Charles White: A Timely Traditionalist
Interview ; Designers West/ June


Since the aim of Charles White's art is to communicate the black experience in terms of the human being's essential dignity, it is unfortunate that more architects and designers have not chosen to give his work the mass audience it could serve so well.

Although his paintings, drawings and prints are widely hung in universities and colleges throughout the world and avidly collected by art connoisseurs, it has not been shown extensively to the American public in large commercial institutions or public buildings.

"Several years ago I did quite a few murals for the WPA programs, and I'd love to do more, but architects today are committed to organic forms which relate to architecture itself. My style is too representational for them, and I'm just not interested in doing what I consider to be 'decorative art.' Content is as important to me as form."

White sees himself as one of the last romantics, but he is far from defensive about it. "To me, romanticism suggests men like Whitman and Thoreau, and that's good company for any man." Interestingly enough, White finds his traditionalism an asset in communicating with his students at Otis Art Institute students raised on electronic music, op and pop art and technology.

"The great mass of youth responds to romanticism, although it is a new romanticism a raw, gut, tell-it-like-it-is romanticism which is personified in people like Bob Dylan and the Beatles. My students recognize in me and in my work what is basic to all romantics and that is an unremitting commitment to the beauty and dignity of man."

White's "communications" concern themselves with the human legacy of pain and hope, "always the pain, and the dignity in spite of it." He does not consider himself a moralist or a political commentator, so he has not put his art to the service of the present state of race relations and black rage.

"Anger is a transitory thing," he commented. "I'm primarily concerned with the enduring truth of man's courage and fortitude. I insist that brotherhood is possible, despite moments of personal anguish over the black struggle."

This unabashed "message oriented" art definitely has a place in today's environment, not only because Charles White is a fine artist, but because the "message" is critical to our time. Art has traditionally been man's way of communicating the essence of his experience, and we would well use wider exposure to Mr. White's particular angle of vision.

Designers West/ June 1969

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