Charles White came from a poor Chicago family. His mother served as domestic help and because she was unable to take him with her or afford child care services he was often left in the library to busy himself until she could retrieve him at the end of the day. It was his time spent in the library that allowed him to recognize and hone his skill as a young artist. It was then that he realized he could recreate the images he saw in books and magazines and his inspiration sparked. A particularly influential book The New Negro by Alain Locke impacted him profoundly. He remarked, “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 years that he developed the desire to use his craft in altering the preconceived “Black image” in America.
Inspired by the song, “Goodnight, Irene” by songwriter Lead Belly. The painting portrays a tenderness and compassion. Music, heavily influential in African American culture is seamlessly melded into the painting’s portrayal of indulgence into a refreshing moment. The two figures a man and a woman sink into one another. It seems that they are each other’s solitude able to allow the other to forbear against every assault. With his guitar in hand the man plays the soundtrack to their moment and their love. Singing what could be blues or the founding tunes of Soul music something emotionally rousing yet therapeutic given the audience’s ability to find release in the song. The woman lies on the mans shoulders in a gesture that applies a search for warmth and affection in a trusted lover and friend. The entire painting seems to round off in an urban musical narrative. A groaning against burdens carried and a harmony of movement forward. Simultaneously nostalgic and progressive.
“Two Brothers Have I had on Earth”
This painting inspires contemplation. It motivates one to question, which is the stronger voice. The Devil on one shoulder or the angel on the other. “Two Brothers” exudes polarity of conscious, awareness of the tumult of one’s own humanity and a spiritual self. Attempting to balance the fiendish temptations of an earthy countenance and the reach for more celestial refinement, White captures a drama all human beings have a role in. The Brother standing seems to seek ways for his schemes to come to realization. Not one to reconsider the option of underhanded tactics and backward dealings he seems determine to find a way into a path of life more glamorous than the one in which he currently resides. The hand on the shoulder of the righteous brother used to push himself up is surely not depicted by mistake. While the other Brother seemingly content to sit in the rain kept dry by the cave seems meek and docile. A personification of the ideals of a disciple. Innocent even naive the look on the face of the seated figure suggest a far-a-wayness, an out of bodied transaction with the divine. In his conversation with the Lord the seated figure mutes all attention to his earthly surroundings and thereby he disarms any temptation to engage in them.