Description: CHARLES WHITE (1918 - 1979)
General Moses (Harriet Tubman).
Chinese ink on 2 joined sheets of illustration board, 1965. 1193x1727 mm; 47x68 inches. Signed and dated in ink, lower right.
Exhibited at ACA Galleries, New York, NY, 1965; Charles White Drawings, The Gallery of Art, College of Fine Arts, Howard University, Washington, D.C., September 22 - October 25, 1967, The Carl Murray Fine Arts Center, Morgan State College, Baltimore, MD, November 1 - 24, 1967 and The Art Gallery, Ballentine Hall, Fisk University, Nashville, TN.
Illustrated in Benjamin Horowitz, Images of Dignity: The Drawings of Charles White, p. 101,and Andrea D. Barnwell, Charles White. The David C. Driskell Series of African American Art: Volume I, p. 87. Gedeon D173.
Charles White has taken realism to great heights in this powerful portrait, one of the most impressive of his large scale drawings of the mid-1960s. The monumental size of General Moses reinforces the heroic realism of the subject. Lucinda Gedeon made the association between the large scale of Charles White's drawings and the strength of his figurative statement. She states "White's affirmative statement of black dignity represented in these figures is strengthened by the sheer size of the drawings (often as large as three by four feet), and their unadulterated realism." In the era of the wall-sized painting of Abstract Expressionism, Charles White elevated the genre of figurative drawing with his own life-size statements.
Charles White also gives the drawing an intensity with the density of the line and mark making. Gedeon describes how White used all types of drawing media in a variety of applications using "Q-tips, Kleenex, rags, balsa wood, brushes, and a whole slew of other things." White further described the density obtained through steady, methodical application used in these large drawings - "I begin to work lightly in halftones which I fix very strongly. I then work from that and fix another layer as I keep building up the composition. In this way, when I work with conte and charcoal, I can get very strong blacks because of the chemical reaction of the fixative to the medium that I'm working on top of. Using this method I can get a far more extensive range of values than I would ordinarily." Gedeon, p. 47. This density of line creates the volumetric forms in the craggy outcrop and the seated figure. The figure appears concrete and the lines combine to resonate with intensity.
Intensity in this drawing also comes from the subject's both heroic and human stature. Known as "the Moses of her people," Harriet Tubman epitomized courage and determination. She overcame all obstacles to lead hundreds out of slavery - and despite many manhunts and ransoms, she was never caught. She epitomizes the strength and courage of an era where African-Americans overcame the greatest suffering and obstacles. She gazes out to the viewer at the beginnning of another great struggle - the battle for Civil Rights in the mid-1960s. In 1965 when this work was commissioned, race riots broke out in many cities including Los Angeles - the Watts section was occupied by the U.S. National Guard. She sat as a role model to the next generation and an ever-present reminder of the historic struggle in the company's lobby. Charles White himself started to mentor the young artists of the city that year as he began teaching at the Otis Arts Institute and assisted with the Saturday morning classes at Golden State.
Indeed, every aspect of this important drawing reinforces its impact - the size, the subject, the composition and the realism of the drawing itself. General Moses appears almost as a force of nature - as solid and unmovable as the massive rock she sits on.
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