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Michael Ray Charles in "Consumption"

Michael Ray Charles is filmed on location at his home and studio in Austin, Texas. Through his studies of advertising, the minstrel tradition, and blackface, Charles seeks to deconstruct and subvert images of blackness through painting.

“I’ve been called a sellout. People question my blackness. A lot of people accuse me of perpetuating a stereotype,” he says. “I think there’s a fine line between perpetuating something and questioning something. And I like to get as close to it as possible.” Pointing out items from his collection of memorabilia, Charles traces the transformation of stereotypes in his work. The segment concludes at an exhibition of Charles’ work in New York City.

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Michael Ray Charles

Michael Ray Charles’ graphically styled paintings investigate racial stereotypes drawn from a history of American advertising, product packaging, billboards, radio jingles, and television commercials. Caricatures of African-American experience, such as Aunt Jemima, are represented in Charles’s work as ordinary depictions of blackness, yet are stripped of the benign aura that lends them an often-unquestioned appearance of truth. In each of his paintings, notions of beauty, ugliness, nostalgia, and violence emerge and converge, reminding us that we cannot divorce ourselves from a past that has led us to where we are, who we have become, and how we are portrayed.

“I think there’s a fine line between perpetuating something and questioning something. And I like to get as close to it as possible.”

Michael Ray Charles

Artist Michael Ray Charles discusses his work’s relation to advertising and familiar images in popular culture.

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