Charles Alston US, 1907-1977


"Fact is based upon vulgar matter."


- Charles Alston

Painter and sculptor Charles Alston was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and moved to New York City as a child, where he attended high school and college, earning his MFA at Columbia University. Alston painted during the Harlem Renaissance, experimenting with African motifs as well as depicting the lives of ordinary black Americans. During the Great Depression, he was one of only a few African American supervisors for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and he taught many young artists, including Jacob Lawrence, at the WPA-sponsored Harlem Community Art Center. Later, Alston helped found Spiral, a group of New York African American artists who met regularly during the 1960s to discuss the relationship of their art to struggles for racial justice. Claiming the influence of the Civil Rights movement on his work, Alston stated, “the basically important thing is making a good picture … out of what your experience has been, and mine has been the experience of a black man in a fairly racist country.” Alston was one of the first black artists to have work exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art. His artwork can also be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Detroit Institute of Art, Butler Art Institute, and Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries.


 - Courtesy of the Smithsonian