Michael Ray Charles

December 1, 1999 - January 22, 2000

Press Release

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Michael Ray Charles
December 1, 1999 - January 22, 2000


The Tony Shafrazi Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new paintings by Michael Ray Charles. This will be the artist's fourth solo exhibition at this gallery.

Michael Ray Charles is a young, African American artist who lives and works in Austin, Texas. Quoting advertising and design, early American illustration, and printed imagery, he uses wit and irony to explore what he terms "the presence of the past". These sources of inspiration are used to question how race representation, power and gender issues are hidden and internalized, yet still a powerful and recurring aspect of American culture.

"What sunk heavily into the psyche of little Michael Ray Charles as he grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana was the intolerable imaging of blacks for commercial and domestic advertising use. Whether "Sambo" or "Coon Chicken Inn" restaurants, "Gold Dust Twins" cleaning powder or a plethora of happy minstrel products, the message was the same: These people will dance, smile and serve you. Now Michael Ray Charles reconstructs it and dishes it back." David Bowie, V Magazine, September-October 1999.

The recognition of 19th century minstrel imagery's influence upon contemporary forms of entertainment led Charles into other areas of exploration. These new paintings are influenced by topics such as fashion, American youth culture, the history of advertising and its continued use of stereotypical images and concepts representative yet often exploitative of women, blacks and other minorities. While emphasizing communication and the misinterpretation of language, Charles is particularly interested in metaphorical concepts and their role in reinforcing superior and inferior ideologies.

Charles views the marketing of sports stars, Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman -- highly exotic sexually charged beings, as modern day minstrels. "I twist these images around and comment on how things are really sold to us and how we're defined by them, such as the cultural consumption of black bodies."

"Michael Ray Charles' paintings expose the nation's race hang ups, he exposes conspicuous consumption in the Black community, encouraging us to question over-identification with basketball and sportswear apparel."
B.E. Myers, XXL Magazine, June 1999

In 1999 Michael Ray Charles had a solo exhibition at Gallery Cotthem, Knokke, Belgium and is currently included in several important touring group exhibitions including, Re/Righting History: Counternarratives by Contemporary African-American Artists at the Katonah Museum, and "Looking Forward, Looking B(l)ack", Hobart and William Smith's Houghton House Art Gallery; Geneva, NY. He has held an assistant professorship position at the University of Texas, Austin since 1994.

Please contact Hiroko Onoda for further information.