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Michael Ray Charles returns to the School of Art

Internationally-acclaimed alumnus joins the CLASS faculty as Professor of Painting.

Michael Ray Charles, one of the nation’s most prominent contemporary artists, returns to his alma mater as a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Painting and a senior member of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences faculty.

spike lee01“The School of Art is pleased that Mr. Charles has chosen the University of Houston, where he will be a tremendous asset to the School and its premier graduate program in art,” said Rex Koontz, director of the School of Art. “He is renown as a mentor to emerging young artists, and he already knows our students well  - he is a graduate of the University of Houston's MFA program.”

Prof. Charles earned a bachelor’s degree at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. in 1989 and completed his Master of Fine Arts at the School of Art in 1993.

Four years later, when he was 30 years old, the first career survey of his art was exhibited at the Blaffer Art Museum, known then as the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston.

The Michael Ray Charles, 1989 - 1997: An American Artist’s Work exhibition was a blockbuster show written about in the New York Times, Texas Monthly magazine and other major publications. It was a watershed moment in the careers of Prof. Charles and the exhibition’s curator Don Baciagalupi, who was director of the Blaffer Gallery then and is now president of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

The exhibition catalogue included an introduction by filmmaker Spike Lee, who wrote, “Michael Ray Charles is a major artist. Please take notice I didn’t say African-American artist. You see I’ve been in that trick bag myself. Let’s not do that disservice to the brother. He is a major young artist, period.”

Lee commissioned Charles to create the poster for his 1997 documentary, 4 Little Girls, about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. that killed four Black girls, as well as two paintings prominently displayed in Lee’s 2000 feature film, Bamboozled.

Prof. Charles’ art constructs and challenges images representing racial stereotypes. His work employs caricature, satire and social criticism to question and confront American visual culture.

“Stereotypes have evolved,” he notes. “I’m trying to deal with present and past stereotypes in the context of today’s society.”

His rapid ascent in the contemporary art world from student to commissioned, collected and surveyed artist coincided with the rising prominence of Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall, and other artists also challenging racially-coded imagery deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

Those same themes still resonate in Prof. Charles’ paintings and drawings today. His critical and commercial success includes representation in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and other major museum collections in both the U. S. and abroad. Solo and group exhibitions of his work are mounted frequently in major art centers around the world, including the Gallery Cottheim in Knokke, Belgium, the Gallery Cottheim in Barcelona, Spain, the Galerie Lucien-Durand in Paris, France, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y.

“Michael Ray Charles is a painter of international profile with exhibits worldwide and major television programs dedicated to his art,” Koontz said.

An episode in Season One of the award-winning television series, Art in the Twenty-First Century, known colloquially as Art21, features Prof. Charles and his art. The series was first broadcast on PBS in 2001 and, in six seasons, has profiled “100 of the most iconic artists of our time.”

-By Shannon Buggs