During an almost eight decade career, artist and visionary Charles McGee created paintings, assemblages, sculptures, public works, and a sense of community with his artwork and teaching throughout Detroit, Michigan. His enduring themes chronicle the Black experience and a love of nature that span an evolution across mediums. Throughout Charles McGee’s extensive career, his practice shifted multiple times, ebbing and flowing from vibrant color to black and white and back again, and through varying degrees of abstraction, always celebrating the creative nature of humankind. During the beginning of McGee’s career, he produced a number of realistic portraits focusing mostly on highlighting Black women and motherhood. Yet, he soon became more interested in abstraction, oftentimes featuring abstracted figures. Many of his works, however, focused completely on line and color, with no recognizable nods to figuration. Through his work, McGee focused on process rather than attempting to dictate a specific meaning or story.
McGee’s work is in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, among many others. An instructor at Eastern Michigan University for almost 20 years, he also taught at the University of Michigan and the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. He co-founded the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit in 1978, and received multiple accolades and awards over his lifetime, including being named the first Kresge Eminent Artist in 2008 and a Michigan Legacy Art Park Award (2019). He was given an honorary doctorate from the College for Creative Studies for his work as an artist and educator.
Charles McGee was born in 1924 in Clemson, South Carolina and died February of 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.
Play Patterns II (Detail), 2011
Mixed media collage on enamel
120h x 240w in
“The surface pleasures and emotional punch are immediately accessible to anyone, but his formal authority keeps your head and heart engaged, and his fundamental optimism—persistent but never naïve—embodies the soul of Detroit.”
— Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press
Black Echo IV, 2007
Ultraviolet ink-jet spray system on panel
60h x 120w in
Exhibitions and Projects
SITE: Michigan Central Station
August 4, 2021 - September 15, 2021
Curated by McArthur BinionOctober 27, 2018 — January 12, 2019
Still SearchingJune 1, 2017 — July 1, 2017
May 13, 2021
The Way It Was — Charles McGee, 1975
Hour Detroit Magazine
July 22, 2017
Charles McGee’s Vibrant Art and the Beauty of Detroit
The New Yorker
June 17, 2017
This 92-Year-Old Muralist Refuses to Slow Down
June 19, 2017
Exhibit ‘Charles McGee: Still Searching’ dazzles
July 23, 2016
New sculpture in Detroit shows 'power of togetherness'
Detroit Free Press