Photo Credit: Aarik Charles

Michael Ray Charles was born in 1967 in Lafayette, Louisiana, and graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1985. In college, he studied advertising design and illustration, eventually moving to painting, his preferred medium. In 1993, Charles received an MFA from the University of Houston. 

Charles’ work explores historic African-American stereotypes from the Antebellum South, appropriating images from advertising and pop culture to expose the underlying racism prevalent in contemporary culture. He creates a vocabulary of cultural, racial and historical images in order to explore caricatures that continue to survive in popular media, such as Aunt Jemima or Sambo. 

Spike Lee commissioned Mr. Charles to create the poster for his 1997 documentary, 4 Little Girls, about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four Black girls, as well as two paintings prominently displayed in Lee’s 2000 feature film, Bamboozled. In 2001, Charles was among the first group of artists showcased in the PBS series Art21. A 2003 article in Black Issues in Higher Education acknowledged Mr. Charles as one of the top future African-American scholars under 40. In 2014, Charles returned to his alma mater and joined the University of Houston faculty as the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Painting. 

Charles has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, and as a juror for The Bush Artist Fellowship in St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as for the Inaugural Biennial Underground Railroad Exhibition at Northern Kentucky University. His work is represented in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and other major museum collections in both the US and abroad. He lectures and exhibits nationally and internationally, and his work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in New York City, Miami, Santa Fe, Düsseldorf, Paris, Belgium, Spain and Norway. 

In 2018, Charles became the recipient of the prestigious American Academy in Rome, Joseph H. Hazen Rome Prize, awarded to artists at the forefront of their disciplines and considered one of the most prestigious awards a practicing artist can receive. 

 

Michael Ray Charles, (Forever Free) Veni Vidi, acrylic latex and copper penny on canvas, 2022. 94 1/2″ × 69 7/8” unframed, 96 1/8” × 71 2/3” framed. Courtesy of Hedwig Van Impe and TEMPLON, Paris — Brussels — New York. Image copyright: Remei Giralt.
Michael Ray Charles, (Forever Free) strange fruits. Obama, acrylic latex and copper penny on canvas, 2008. 97 5/8” × 60 2/8”. Courtesy of Hedwig Van Impe and TEMPLON, Paris — Brussels — New York. Image copyright: Remei Giralt.
Michael Ray Charles, (Forever Free) The Delicate Balance, acrylic latex and copper penny on board, 2004. 98 3/7” × 60 1/4″ unframed, 102 3/8” × 61 4/5” framed. Courtesy of Hedwig Van Impe and TEMPLON, Paris — Brussels — New York. Image copyright: Remei Giralt.