Charles Alston, painter, sculptor, commercial artist, educator, was a man of amazing talent and vision. Many artists, critics and scholars have regarded Alston as this century's most important contributor to African American art.
Alston arrived in Harlem at the dawn of the Harlem Renaissance, where he met scholar Alain Locke, who encouraged him to study African art. Locke prompted African Americans to see themselves through their own eyes; Alston infused his work with African imagery.
He became the first black supervisor for the WPA and headed the Harlem Hospital Murals Project, in 1935. These murals were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art before their installation. During World War II, Alston was chosen by the War Department to illustrate cartoons for Black publications to mobilize Black support for the war. After the war, he began a successful career as a commercial artist, and was published in Collier's, American Magazine, and New Yorker,
Through his association with the "306 Group", a gathering of the most creative minds of the time, he worked with artists, musicians and writers; among them were: Gwendolyn Brooks, Augusta Savage, Richard Wright, Countee Cullen, Orson Wells. It was there that he fostered the talents of artists Jacob Lawrence , and Romare Bearden. In 1948 he received his second large mural commission with the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company in California. Renowned artist and long time friend Hale Woodruff worked with him on the project.
In 1950 he won first prize in a national painting competition sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum later purchased the painting for its collection. He became the first Black instructor of the Art Students League in New York.. His paintings often had a sculptural quality.
Rrecipient of the National Institute of Arts and Letters award in 1958. His art is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and IBM. Alston was appointed a Trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, and also served on the Advisory Board to the National Council on the Arts.
Charles Alston had an illustrious career. He is among the pages of Who's Who in American Art, included in the book The Negro Impact of Western Art, reviewed in Art News, and the New York Times. He could paint, or sculpt in any style. All of his different techniques demonstrated his virtuosity; there is no identifiable style for instant recognition. As a result he has remained largely unknown, his talent is only now being recognized for the master that he was.
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