Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Art Reflecting Life: Michael Ray Charles. (Fine Arts)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Art Reflecting Life: Michael Ray Charles. (Fine Arts)

Article excerpt

Title: Associate Professor of Art, University of Texas at Austin

Education: Masters of Fine Arts, University of Houston; B.A., Advertising Design, McNeese State University

Age: 35

"Spike denies it," says Michael Ray Charles when asked if his 1997 painting "Bamboozled" inspired Spike Lee's film of the same name, but the artist isn't sure he buys that.

Lee is, after all, a big fan of Charles' work. The filmmaker commissioned a painting from the artist for his 1997 documentary "Four Little Girls," and Charles served as a creative consultant on "Bamboozled," Lee's seating dramedy of race and the entertainment industry that opened to critical praise in 2000. And then there's the clincher: the fact that Lee just happens to own the painting in question.

"I like to think (I inspired him). After all, there was no "Bamboozled" before my work," Charles says, just a hint of a smile in his voice.

This is the life of Michael Ray Charles, associate professor of art at the University of Texas at Austin: high-profile collaborations with top Black movie directors; a celebrity clientele that includes actor David Allen Grier and director Penny Marshall; solo exhibitions in New York, Dusseldorf and Barcelona; special segments on PBS and Canadian and German television.

He's only 35, but Charles has traveled a long way from his modest beginnings in rural St. Martinville, La.

Charles is acclaimed for his biting, sometimes satiric renderings of America's racist visual history--the "golliwogs," Sambos, Mammies and "jigaboos" that populated advertising, product packaging, billboards, radio jingles and television commercials for more than a century. His work explores the link between the minstrel images of the not-too-distant past and mass-media portrayals of celebrity rappers and shoe-peddling athletes. He has been lavishly praised--and excoriated, often by other Black artists, when the scalpel he holds to the wound of America's racial psyche probes too deep.

The artist won't comment directly on the criticism that has been leveled at him over the years. …

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