Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Charles White

Wanted Poster Series, 1970


21.5" x 29.25"

Other Works

Previous Work Next Work

Wanted Poster Series

During the late 1960s, Charles White discovered a series of pre-Civil War posters advertising slave auctions and rewards for runaway slaves. These posters inspired White to create a series of paintings portraying contemporary African Americans against a background fabricated from the images of the old "wanted" posters. The original series was painted in oil on board in 1969. Later, in 1970, through the process of lithography, he reproduced the series on paper.

The lithograph in the Driskell Collection from the Wanted Poster Series depicts a mother and child set against the crinkled textured background of what appears to be an old slave-auction poster. On the top left-hand corner, White painted the year 1619. In the center of the composition - underneath the two circular forms that frame the faces of a woman and child - he has prominently placed an X. And, in the far right-hand corner of the painting, he included the unfinished date 19??. White's careful juxtaposing of dates, symbols, and images in this work may indicate his frustration regarding the cycle of oppression and degradation African Americans have historically endured from the first arrival of seventeen African slaves in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 to a date that has yet to be revealed.

The X in White's "wanted" poster composition appears to refer to the Nation of Islam's use of the letter as a symbolic replacement for the white slave name that black Americans chose or were forced to choose in lieu of their original African names. Such a reference is underscored by its placement under and between the child and woman, indicating the further separation of black American families–through slave auctions–from their cultural heritage.  T. F.


David Driskell
Related Sites
III. The Black Academy
Related Links

Charles White biography

Charles White on the web

Next Artist

Previous Artist Section I Home Next Artist