Private Showroom: Charles Searles
acrylic on canvas, 70" x 68.5" Exhibited in "Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia: Bullock, Searles, Twins Seven-Seven," Woodmere Art Museum, 2020. $78,000
acrylic on canvas, 69.5" x 69" Exhibited in "Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia: Bullock, Searles, Twins Seven-Seven," Woodmere Art Museum, 2020. $78,000
acrylic on canvas, 65.5" x 64.5" SOLD
Photo published in the "Philadelphia Evening Bulletin" (1975) and reproduced in "We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s,"Woodmere Art Museum, 2015-16, exhib cat.
Charles Searles (1937-2004): painting, sculpture, large-scale public art installations. Born and raised in Philadelphia, graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1972; relocated his studio to New York City in 1978; taught at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia (then Philadelphia College of Art) from 1972-1994.
After traveling to Nigeria for the first time in 1972, Searles returned to Philadelphia to incorporate the vivid palette and energetic patterns he encountered in contemporary Nigerian culture into his own work. Searles’ official biography states, “His travels in Africa marked his life and work forever - the life, the rhythms, the patterns, and the energy… [The Dancer] series marked a change in his life, celebrating his new sense of renewal and the African experience.” Searles based his subject matter for this series on his observations of Arthur Hall’s Afro-American Dance Ensemble at the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center in North Philadelphia, where he was an art instructor and occasionally played percussion at rehearsals.
Thomas Hine of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes of Searles' "Dancer" paintings exhibited at the Woodmere Art Museum: "The Woodmere show feels like an explosion of life. The works incorporate the gestures and rhythms of African dance that was at the heart of Ile-Ife, and the colors and patterns in Searles' work are wonderfully vibrant. . . Searles was the first graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to use a traveling fellowship to go to Africa. . . The African inspiration lies in his ebullient use of bold, clashing patterns. A few years later, exploration of juxtaposed pattern and ornament would become an art world trend, but Searles' work has a sense of music and movement that is unique. . . It's a great show to help you open your eyes again."
Paintings from this series are rare: Smithsonian American Art Museum owns a large, finished study for Searles’ mural at the William J. Green Jr. Federal Building in Philadelphia; Howard University owns a large painting with 4 figures; and La Salle University Art Museum owns a large painting with a single figure. After curating three exhibitions featuring Searles’ work, I have been able to locate only three additional paintings in his Dancer series. These three paintings come from the collection of the original owner (Earl Gray Roberts III), who purchased the paintings directly from Searles in the mid-1970s.
Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia: Bullock, Searles, Twins Seven-Seven (Woodmere Art Museum), 2020. Digital version accessible via issuu HERE.
Thomas Hine, "After a long break, a fresh look at art," Philadephia Inquirer, July 26, 2020. Accessible HERE.
Sarah Abraham, “The Long Reach of the Orishas: West Africa in the Art and Life of Philadelphia, on Vin de Vie Art of Life, February 27, 2020. Accessible HERE.
Charles Searles, ed. Susanna Gold and Klare Scarborough. A Catalogue for Two Exhibitions: Charles Searles: The Mask of Abstraction (La Salle University Art Museum) and Charles Searles: In Motion (Tyler School of Art, Temple University), 2013. Print copies available at Lulu Publishers HERE.
(Download Searles info as PDF)