Tales from The b.a.SKET: Black Art Sketches for the Contemporary Art Lover
By D. Amari Jackson
This week, we reach into the b.a.SKET and pull out Hope Imprisoned by Charles White…
Charles White was sick.
In 1944, the talented artist battled the serious effects of tuberculosis which he contracted during his wartime army service, resulting in his discharge from the military. Not only was he struggling personally, White’s condition further symbolized his embattled community as Black Americans suffered racism both at home and abroad, simultaneously under attack in both places.
Two years later, prompted by his failing health and the plight of his beloved community, White produced the poignant and extraordinary work, Hope Imprisoned. The piece, a graphically real tempera on cream wove paper, depicts an emotionally devastated woman in what appears to be a cell, her downtrodden expression suggesting she has almost given up on life. For the struggling White, such imprisoned hope simultaneously represented his own internal illness along with the difficult plight of a community constantly under attack from all sides.
However, though wavering and imprisoned, White’s poignant title clearly suggests that, for his dismal subject, a sliver of hope still remains.
Ironically, some believe White’s illness further enhanced his sizable impact and legacy. In 1956, upon dealing with ongoing breathing problems likely as a result of his wartime illness, White relocated to Los Angeles to take advantage of the city’s drier, milder climate. He was hired as a fulltime faculty member at the city’s Otis Art Institute where the master teacher was able to facilitate and mold the careers of countless emerging artists, including the likes of Alonzo Davis, David Hammons, and Kerry James Marshall.
White’s indelible impact was such that an elementary school located on the former Otis College campus was ultimately named after him.
And like his poignant 1946 painting, the late Charles White, despite the grave physical illness that disabled him in life, was able to pass his remaining slivers of hope on to the successive generations of artists his life and legacy continue to inspire.
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Amari Jackson is a creator, author, TV/web/film producer, and award-winning journalist. He is author of the 2011 novel, The Savion Sequence; creator/writer/coproducer of the 2012-2014 web series The Book Look; writer/coproducer of the 2016 film Edge of the Pier; and current writer/coproducer of Listen Up! on HBCU GO/Roku TV. He is a former Chief of Staff for a NJ State Senator; a former VP of Communications & Development for the Jamestown Project at Harvard University; and a recipient of several writing fellowships including the George Washington Williams Fellowship from the Independent Press Association. An active ghost writer, song writer, martial artist, and journalist, his writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and regional publications.
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