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Michael Ray Charles

Michael Ray Charles
A Retrospective

Featuring more than one hundred and fifty color images, this is the first in-depth examination of the work of Michael Ray Charles, whose provocative paintings recast images of racism in consumer culture.

January 2020
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300 pages | 9.625 x 11.5 | 151 color and 20 b&w photos |

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, and 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.


Charles Eldredge Award/Nat Museum of American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum

  • Interview with Michael Ray Charles by Cherise Smith
  • Plates
  • Michael Ray Charles: A History by Cherise Smith
  • Acknowledgments
  • Curriculum Vitae by Kara Carmack
  • Bibliography by Katherine Gregory Field
  • Index

Cherise Smith
Austin, Texas

A curator and art historian, CHERISE SMITH is the Founding Executive Director of the Art Galleries at Black Studies, Chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department (AADS), and a professor in the Departments of AADS and 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.


“[The] cogent, expansive essay by art historian Cherise Smith contextualizes Charles's provocative appropriation of stereotypical racial material.”
Sightlines Magazine

“[Michael Ray Charles] documents 30 years of Charles' output and provides both an historical and contemporary context for his development. It further brings us up to the present both in terms of his work and the so-called post-racial America many hoped would truly exist with the election of Barack Obama.”
Print Magazine

“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.”
Prairie View A&M's "TIPHC Newsletter"

“Addressing many facets of Charles’s career, Smith’s monograph is a welcome addition to [the] renewed recognition of Charles’s significant standing in contemporary American art. Her scholarship reveals the complexity of his engagement with images and symbols of antiblack racism and helps readers gain a greater appreciation of his controversial body of work as it relates to a range of art historical, social, and political contexts...We are fortunate to have Smith’s monograph as a guide for thinking through Charles’s incredibly powerful body of work.”

“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

“A stunningly comprehensive, prodigiously researched, and thoroughly moving exploration of one of the crucial artists of our time. Scarifying, disturbing, truly beautiful.”
Eric Lott, City University of New York Graduate Center, author of Black Mirror: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism