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New book offers a clear-eyed and complex retrospective of Michael Ray Charles
Michael Ray Charles. Photo: David Brendan Hall.



AUSTIN, TX.- Michael Ray Charles is the most comprehensive presentation yet of the work of an artist who rose to prominence in the 1990s for works that engaged American stereotypes of African Americans. With a background in advertising and an archivist’s inquisitiveness, Charles developed an artistic practice that made startling use of found images and offered critiques of the narratives they fostered. Immersing readers in the imagination of this daring painter, Michael Ray Charles celebrates and contextualizes a singular, major figure in the art world.




Art historian Cherise Smith collaborated with the artist to curate nearly one hundred color plates documenting nearly thirty years of visual art. These plates are framed by an interview with the artist and by Smith’s own deep interpretive essay on Charles’s work. Smith explores topics ranging from the controversy resulting from Charles’s provocative appropriations of stereotypical racial material to his techniques of sampling from popular culture; from his commentaries on African American men and sports to his work with director Spike Lee on Bamboozled. Both clear-eyed and complex, this retrospective demonstrates the significant role that Michael Ray Charles’s work has played in defining what art is today.

Cherise Smith is a curator, art historian, and Founding Executive Director of the Art Galleries at Black Studies, Chair of and Associate Professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, and a professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Enacting Others: Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith.

“Michael Ray Charles is a consummate image maker, sampling and remixing a universe of popular signs and symbols, and seducing viewers into confrontations with their problematic sources. In this brilliant and timely book--part biography, part critical reading of the artist’s work and its times, and part cultural history—Cherise Smith examines the wide-ranging and evolving context for Charles’s work and its sources. Artists as varied as Betye Saar, Chris Rock, Kara Walker, and Spike Lee make appropriate guest appearances, and each contributes to a clear explication of the complexities of the art of our time. Smith is an elegant voice and capable guide in a sea of bombast, leading the reader through a minefield of controversy.” —Don Bacigalupi










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