"I Have a Dream" by Charles White (photo courtesy of the Primas Family Collection)

‘Charles White: A Little Higher’ in Cincinnati

The drawings, prints and paintings of this 20th-century artist are on display at this Cincinnati Art Museum exhibition Nov. 10 through Feb. 25.

The bearded subject of Charles White’s linocut print, “Micah,” stands tall in his voluminous robe and stares boldly out of frame. It is one of 46 drawings, paintings and prints in the exhibition, “Charles White: A Little Higher,” on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum from Nov. 10 through Feb. 24.

Organized in a roughly chronological order, the exhibition invites visitors to follow White’s evolution as an artist. Born in Chicago in 1918, he developed an early love for art at the Chicago Public Library.

“He became very engaged with art books and with books that showed the influence of African Americans and their contributions to American culture,” says Julie Aronson, curator of American paintings, sculpture and drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

White attended the Art Institute of Chicago and became involved in the Chicago Black Renaissance of writers and artists. Under the Works Progress Administration, he painted public art for pay, including a mural at Hampton University in Virginia.

Shaped by his community, his subjects centered around African American history. White also advocated for Black Americans through curating and lecturing at exhibitions and teaching. Community activism through art remained important to White throughout his life.

“For him, art is really a form of communication,” Aronson says. “He continues to paint throughout his life in a style that’s really a narrative style.”

Aronson describes White’s early work as “blocky,” such as “Awaiting His Return, a lithograph from 1946 whose subject looks carved from stone. Moving through the exhibition, White’s work softens.

“Micah” is one example of this aspirational style, as is “Jubilee,” one of 12 illustrations for Lerone Bennett Jr.’s book The Shaping of Black America. The backgrounds of these illustrations look like parchment that has been repeatedly folded and unfolded, which plays into the effect they have on the viewer.

“They have this feeling of time to them, of history,” Aronson says. 953 Eden Park Dr., Cincinnati 45202, 513/721-2787, cincinnatiartmuseum.org