Charles Wilbert White was born in 1918 in Chicago. He began creating art at a very early age and showed talent. White received a scholarship to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There he was introduced to the Mexican muralists, such as Diego Rivera, who were using mural art to express their views and educate the public. This idea appealed to White. In 1942, he continued his education at the the Art Students League. He worked as an artist for the WPA and while in the program painted the mural, “Five Great American Negroes” for the Cleveland Branch of the Chicago Public Library.
In 1947, Charles White was given his first solo show at the American Contemporary Art (ACA) Gallery in New York City. He won a Julius Rosenwald Foundation study grant which gave him the opportunity to travel in the South. This experience enabled him to be better understand the folklore, poetry, dance and music of the “Negroes” living there. It would have a profound effect on White and his artwork.
Charles White and his wife, fellow artist Elizabeth Catlett, traveled to Mexico to study and work at Mexico’s famous graphic workshop Taller de Grafica Popular. From that experience and exposure to the muralists working there he said, “I saw artists working to create an art about and for the people. This has been the strongest influence in my whole approach. It clarified the direction in which I wanted to move.”
Upon returning from Mexico, his subject matter shifted from historical black figures to more common man and everyday life. By the 1960s, White’s art resonated with the Black Consciousness movement . Black colleges exhibited his work. Today, his works of art are in museums throughout the world, including Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Howard University Museum; Taller de Grafica, Mexico City; Deutsche Academy der Künste, Berlin and Dresden Museum of Art.
Charles Wilbert White died in 1980.