Charles Henry Alston: African Art Influences - Research Paper

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1771 Words
Date:  2023-02-27


Before "The Family" artwork became part of Whitney museum's collection, it was owned by Charles Henry Alston. The African art influence could always be detected in almost all the works of Alston, and most of his subjects were showcased with angular features, comparable with African masks. Additionally, Alston's theme paintings were often relatively consistent as many African American, blues, African, and family themes could be seen. In canvas, slender, and tall, one of his artworks referred to as "The Family," Alston showcases a family hierarchy and love: the father standing while holding the shoulder of his two children and a mother seated while holding her hands.


Charles Henry Alston was an African-American artist born on 28th November 1907 in Charlotte, N. C. He was nicknamed "Spinky" and was the youngest among five children in their family. His parents were Anna Miller Alston and Reverend Primus Priss Alston. Moreover, Charles gained fame as an educator, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor, and painter, who made him successful. After Charles' father died in 1910, his mother remarried an uncle of Romare Bearden named Harry Pierce Bearden, who worked together with Charles (Linden and Larry, 392). As time progressed, Charles' artistic efforts became famous when he was very young. His first pieces of art were cars and trains, while the first sculptures were created from red clay. At the age of 14, while in Dewitt Clinton high school, he won the grammar art prize of the school and was elected to the Arista, an honorary achievers' society, where he served as the art editor for moats school magazines. While he was still a student, he was influenced by a cultural theorist who was a black philosopher named Alain Locke. Locke used to urge many black artists to analyze African forms to find perfect ways of expressing the African-American experience. Charles Henry Alston proceeded with his formal art education at the school of fine arts at Columbia University, where he attained a degree in Bachelor of Arts in 1929. Nevertheless, in his professional career, he became a friend, mentor, and teacher to many people, including Langston Hughes. Alston's talent then amazed Hughes, Duke Ellington, as well as other writers of the era of the Harlem Renaissance as he could create artworks for album covers, dust jackets, and illustrations (Linden and Larry, 394).

Trust banner

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

Techniques and Media

Charles Henry Alston used paint to make "The Family" artwork. According to art, he created an underpainting in a mix of burnt sienna or burnt umber and phthalo blues to develop values and shadows. According to the picture, he might have used acrylic as the medium as they are always considered to be permanent and quick-dryings. While using the slow-drying paints, he painted from thin to thick while working up to the highlights (Gates Jr. and Evelyn). As he proceeded, the brightest (usually the heaviest) was used at the end, wherein the depicted case was blue, which the mother was wearing.

On the other hand, brushes often come in varying shapes, sizes, and fiber types, which all give different results. From the depicted art, Alston might have used a bigger brush known as filbert to block in form and paint. In most cases, the brush often has a dual nature as it combines aspects of round and flat brushes so that larger parts can be covered easily while painting. The texture of the art was then built up using a flat dry brush to blend the paint used and create transitions. As depicted in the picture, one can see the mother, father, and two kids, all dressed in different attires, which showcases that Alston built up the texture of his paints (Caruso, Hwa, and John, 121). Moreover, in "The Family" painting, one can see the legs of both the mother and daughter are exposed in as much as they are dressed. Alston used graffito to scratch away some paint while it was still wet, which made the underpaintings to be visible. He then laid a transparent coat of paint over some dry parts of the painting (known as glazing) to modulate the depicted colors and intensify shadows (Gates Jr. and Evelyn). For instance, he used black and brown paint, which create a dark brown skin tone for the family.

The Size or Dimensions of the Artwork

The overall dimensions or size of the artwork is 48 3/16 35 13/16 in. (122.4 91 cm) for the canvas and 55 1/4 43 1/8 2 1/2 in. (140.34 109.54 6.35 cm) for the outer frame (Alston).

Style or Movements Associated with the Artwork

Art movements or styles get construed as the collective titles given to pieces of art that share the same artistic timeframe, technical approach, style, or ideals. Therefore, the movement associated with "The Family" artwork by Charles Alston is fauvism. The depicted piece of art uses various symbolic colors that are pushed towards the fauvism style. The colors used in the artwork translate a range of emotions, from Alston's family to the general world. According to the inventor of Fauvism, color always has a mystical quality that expresses the feelings of people regarding a subject instead of describing a scene (Agarwal et al.). Moreover, according to fauvism, when one glances once at a piece of art, the apparent freedom style might be seen to deny the relevant technique or skill. However, when one moves closer and analyzes the art as well as the effective function of visual elements, they realize that there is a certain instinctive sensibility used.

For instance, in "The Family," artwork, one cannot see the meaning of the art with a glance. But when they move closer, the meaning of the art can be seen through the effective use of visual elements that depict perfect skills, techniques, or talents. Therefore, according to Alston, he understood that in case he intensified the color value for an expressive effect, he must decrease the details used to draw the forms and shapes of the images. Additionally, colors have different meanings and impressions in the art (Agarwal et al.). According to Alston, applying the same type of spontaneity and simplification to his brushwork and drawing amplifies the sense of happiness which he earned through painting and color (Alston). From the depicted artwork, purity of lines is lessened by details, they injure a person's emotional intensity, and individuals often choose to reject them. Thus, the primary aim of painting might not be to reflect the history, but it is always a way in which artists express their inner vision.

Noteworthy Information About the Artwork

Charles Alston's series of family paintings were all inspired by a particular trip that he took to the South in the 1940s. The almost black faces of the four people in his painting depict how the whites viewed the blacks in the precolonial period. The husband, daughter, and son are standing while the mother is seated. The color place of Alston can be seen to draw close the parents and children through the interaction of various geometric shapes. The depicted simple look implies or creates a serene and calm setting where the family hopes for a better future (Alston). However, although the parents seem serious and somber, the children have been added to create a sense of optimism accelerating. Moreover, the simple content and form of the piece of art showcase the life which the African Americans lived. Deep messages are being conveyed through the faces of African American or African parents.

From Alston's other piece of art showcasing the family, one must first understand the work of art which transpired due to the great migration as there should be some familiarity with various community ideas. For African Americans to leave their homes in the South, they had a reason. Life in the South was tough and tiresome, which did not please them (Caruso, Hwa, and John, 122). Therefore, they had to look for a new way of life in the North, close bonds they left, and make new communities that will understand their needs and make them happy (Alston). Therefore, through capturing various Harlem aspects in a beneficial light, many black communities become strong and proud of their lives and families. From the depicted piece of art painted by Alston, the family had moved from the South and were starting a new life together in the North. The father is holding his kids to depict happiness in his heart that he has his family as well as closeness. He is also looking upon his wife to bring the family together and make them happy (Alston).

Subject Matter or Content, and Message of the Artwork

Charles Alston tried to imply family love and strong bond from his painting, where one should prioritize their family first. He pictured the art during a Harlem Renaissance when there was racism where they used to stay, and life was tough. As people moved to the North, they found peace, and all they needed was their family and new communities that would understand them better. He created a fundamental representation of African Americans' figures and experiences as an active statue in the Harlem Renaissance in the 20th century (Gates Jr. and Evelyn). The depicted painting showcases his inner vision of the African Americans generated from where he used to work and see how the blacks were being treated. In the second world war, he served in the war information office while during the depression, he was in the works progress administration.

His early operations showcased affinities towards realism in most of his sympathetic portraits, sculptures, as well as large-scale public murals (Caruso, Hwa, and John) Nevertheless, in the 1940s, his operation turned to art where he began exhibiting mask-like behaviors and sharper lines, while the generation of civil rights fueled a more crucial and harsh tone to his work. The actions imbued numerous religious allusions with a various sense of political immediacy. Charles Alston could remain with his relatives to depict the family love as he knew the suffering they had undergone before moving to a peaceful place. Nonetheless, the civil rights movement which took place in 1960 impacted greatly on Alston, where he depicted the period as the most powerful in his life (Alston).

Works Cited

Agarwal, Siddharth, et al. "Genre and style based painting classification." 2015 IEEE Winter Conference on Applications of Computer Vision. IEEE, 2015.

Alston, Charles Henry. Wild Life in the West Highlands. J. Maclehose and Sons, 1912.

Caruso, Hwa Young, and John Caruso Jr. "Art Review: Jacob Lawrence's African American Migration Series-1915 to the 1950s." International Journal of Multicultural Education 17.3 (2015): 119-127.

Gates Jr, Henry Louis, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds. African American Lives. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Linden, Diana L., and Larry A. Greene. "Charles Alston's Harlem Hospital Murals: Cultural Politics in Depression Era Harlem." Prospects 26 (2001): 391-421.

Cite this page

Charles Henry Alston: African Art Influences - Research Paper. (2023, Feb 27). Retrieved from

Free essays can be submitted by anyone,

so we do not vouch for their quality

Want a quality guarantee?
Order from one of our vetted writers instead

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:

didn't find image

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience and 25% off!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism