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Charles McGee
"Squares and Things" African-American Painting of Colorful Quilt & Still Life




"Squares and Things" painted by the eminent artist, Charles McGee, literally breaths his African American heritage and his extraordinary vibrant use of colors. This early painting of McGee's shows his mastery in creating a painting in the style of the French Impressionist Edouard Manet, "Still Life with Melon and Peaches" located in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and in the style of Fauvist/Expressionist painter Henry Matisse, "Still Life with Blue Tablecloth", located in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia. McGee makes the well-known genre of still life his own creating an exciting marvelous work incorporating the homely quilt - the powerful symbol of the African American road to safety from slavery - as his main focus. Quilts symbolize warmth, comfort, and as shown by the collection of quilts gathered by the artists in Gee's Bend the designs on the quilts hung outdoors at locations along the Underground Railroad showed fugitives the road north and to safety. "Squares and Things" was first shown at The Arwin Galleries, Inc., Detroit, Michigan, one of the stops along the Underground Railroad. This piece is signed by the artist, Charles McGee, and is an extraordinary example of his early work before he moved into Abstract Expressionism and his many sculptural works now located throughout Michigan. Several of these works are: "Noah's Ark: Genesis, 1984," on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts, his brilliant 2005 "Progression" a 45-foot wide aluminum sculpture at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan, and his stunning 2016 "United We Stand" sculpture at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History . His genius can be seen in sculpture installments throughout the city of Detroit. . He was born into a family of sharecroppers. While helping his grandfather tend the land, "he observed firsthand the order and harmony that exists within nature." He had no formal schooling until moving to Detroit at age 10, where he found that "everything was on the move and it hasn’t slowed down yet." in 2017 he observed, "I learned something not being in school — because life is school . . .I learn something every time I move. Every time I go around a corner, something new is revealed to me.” McGee took advantage of the GI Bill to attend classes at the Society of Arts and Crafts, now the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI. Other College for Creative Studies (formerly Center for Creative Studies) faculty and graduates include Richard Jerzy, Harry Bertoia, Doug Chaing (currently director of Lucas Film), Stephen Dinehart (game maker, writer, designer connected with The David Lynch Foundation), Tyree Guyton (international artist), Herb Babcock, Jerome Feretti, Kevin Siembieda (writer, designer and publisher of role-playing games), Renee Radell, and Philip Pearlstein. After retiring from the Corps of Engineers, McGee spent 1968 studying art in Barcelona. Despite not knowing the language at the outset, he immersed himself in the culture and opened himself to a whole new range of experience that would play out in his artwork. "If you free yourself, you have this kind of opportunity to have those experiences, horizons, and new vistas." (per interview with Nick Sousanis author of a book on Charles McGee.) He returned to Detroit and curated "Seven Black Artists" at the Detroit Artists Market in 1969, which along with McGee himself, included Lester Johnson, Henri Umbaji King, Robert Murray, James Lee, Allie McGhee, Harold Neal, and Robert J. Stull. This immediately led to him opening the artists' collective Gallery 7 at 8232 West McNichols and the Charles McGee School of Art. The gallery ran until 1974 when he closed the school and moved the gallery to the Fisher building where it stayed until 1979. The school functioned entirely as a volunteer organization run by McGee. People rallied around it as a community project, with such teachers as artist George Rogers who worked with the children and Allie McGhee and others, even their supplies came as donations from local institutions. McGee states emphatically that, "People participated because we had created such a dynamic place in the community, people couldn't ignore it." Nationally, his work has shown at the Brooklyn Museum and Whitney Museum of American Art and in touring exhibitions under the umbrellas of the Smithsonian. According to the Kresge Foundation, "McGee developed an unwavering loyalty to the city and its residents, and endowed it with much of his artistic energy and artwork 'Detroit really has been a heaven for me,’ McGee explains. ‘It has given me dignity and treated me with respect.’” In 2008, McGee was named the first Kresge Eminent Artist. Administered by the College for Creative Studies, this award honors one Detroit artist each year for professional achievements, cultural contributions, and commitment to the local arts community. In early 2019, Michigan Legacy Art Park announced that McGee would receive its 2019 Legacy Award "in recognition of a lifetime of achievements and influences as an artist, teacher, advocate and global citizen."


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