The recent exhibition Charles White: A Retrospective (Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 7, 2018–January 13, 2019) offered a chance to consider the technical and iconographic breadth of an oeuvre that has been exhibited mainly in sporadic doses for the past few decades and has expanded in scope through recent attention from a subsequent generation of African American artists, including several students as well as art scholars. White (1918–79) was vocally committed from the mid-1960s through his final decade to African American art subjects in tandem with social issues, climactic in poignant, politically charged lithographs in a realist drawing style set in increasingly abstract environments. By then associated with the Black Arts Movement, he continued to recycle historical figures and references from his earliest work in the milieu of a Black Renaissance in Chicago and bolstered by the Works Progress Administration, which, with reciprocal viewing, takes on a collective modernist context in terms of current events related to African American experience and American life broadly, even where allegorical. White’s prolific graphic experimentation yielded varied surface patterns that often evoke content-laden textures, elided into several distinctive late paintings also featured.

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