Interview with Artist / Illustrator David Charles

In the Eyes of a Rebel: David Charles by Dana Rettig

Renaissance is French for change. It is a cultural movement in the 1920s that celebrated black art, literature, and music that experienced renewal and growth; originating in New York City’s Harlem district, which later became known as The Black Renaissance and the New Negro Movement. Authors and illustrators such as, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Jean Toomer, James W. Johnson, Aaron Douglas, Archibald J. Motley, and William H. Johnson were associated with the movement; establishing a new era of art and music for the strong and inspired.

Before Boondocks’ creator, Aaron McGruder told a tale about two inner-city kids, Huey and Riley Freeman finding their way as well as enduring the social ills of suburban life with their grandfather, Robert Freeman; there were artists that have paved the way for those who were afraid to shed light on societal ills such as racism, lynching, police brutality, and other ill-willed antics that have deprived African-Americans to attain any kind of prosperity. Baltimore native, David Charles is not your average illustrator. He is an illustrator that has shed some light on life beyond imagination since the third grade; displaying his talents based on observing his vicinity become desolated with drugs, poverty and police brutality.

After high school, David Charles’ work has been displayed at the Five Seasons club and the renowned Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center in Baltimore, as well as in Brooklyn, New York and the October Gallery Philadelphia International Expo. Currently, David Charles depicts his art as “hip-hop on canvas” using color pencils and markers to evoke the African-American experience of Baltimore in various social ranges; including an inept, young man with dread locks who is sitting at a local bus stop, anticipating change for the human race in David’s latest piece, “Angel of the Slums”.

He has also donated his work to non-profit organizations and often shows his art to children and speaks to them about urban social injustice.

UM: Your work is amazing! Who/What prompted you to become an illustrator?

DC: “I think exposure to art is what motivated me to do illustration. I read a lot of comic books and was quite fascinated with the cover book designs and the authors who would write such amazing stories. Coming up, I used to copy images on a sheet of paper and just doodle. My mother bought me pads, crayons, and etcetera; just so I could use my imagination to the best of my ability. My cousin was an artist, so it was pretty much more of a hobby than a passion.”

UM: When you think of artists such as Archibald J. Motley,[ Aaron Douglas] and a few other artists in the Harlem Renaissance Era; what comes to mind when you think about their contributions to the Black Arts Movement as well as social/economical change in the 1920s?

DC: “Wow… that is a very good question. It’s complex, but good. Honestly, I don’t know much about the guys you have just mentioned. I’ve done everything on my own coming up because I have never received a formal education on artists such as the ones you have mentioned. My content comes from experience. However, I do know one artist that I believe is very interesting. His name is Ernie Barnes. [He] is the one who illustrated pictures for the television hit series, Good Times.

He exemplified of what an artist is made of. He made art his career as well as his passion because art is a very emotional process. For instance, I began pursuing art at the age of twenty-five. Although, I pursued art for the love of it; it was mandatory that I did some research on the illustrators before me. There is a fine line between business and passion. Business consists of money. It doesn’t attain anything emotional.
In other words, not only did Ernie make his art his passion, but he used art as a business venture, too. Mr. Barnes knew how to manage his passion and business at the same time.”

UM: Besides displaying wonderful images, what other talents do you possess?

DC: “I work with children. I do a little bit of writing, too. I never did a lot of writing because my art stood out.”

UM: What advice do you have for illustrators of tomorrow?

DC: “Continue to be creative because when you have the ability to change people’s lives, you must let it out. It can weigh on you if you don’t display your talent. For example, most of my friends are confined at this moment. I had sent them some of my art work and the firs thing that they said to me was ‘I love your art work, man. It brings me a sense of peace.’ Just hearing someone tell me how much I inspire them brings me joy. It lets me know that I have given someone a sense of hope despite of their circumstances. Educate yourself on art culture. Don’t let your gift(s) go unnoticed. Whether if you know it or not, you have a responsibility to affect people’s lives in a positive light.”

UM: How has giving back to the community changed your perspective on life?

DC: “Giving back to the community gives me a sense of purpose. Anytime you give back, you are doing God’s work. That’s the difference between living and existing. When you’re living, you are giving yourself to the community than expected. When you just exist; all you’re doing is breathing God’s air. You’re not doing something to positive to make a change within the community.”

UM: Describe your style of illustration.

DC: “My style of illustration is hip-hop on canvas. I was born in 1979; an era when hip-hop was about substance and creativity. It was about expressing issues within the city and all over the world. [Illustration] was a tool to express myself; to tell my story. Again, Ernie Banks’ signature was people with slim bodies and shut eyes. It was unique because no one else created that trademark but him. My signature of illustration is the big eyes. If you look at my work via online, you will see the big eyes on my characters. It’s a trademark. As far as hip-hop is concerned, back in the day, every MC was unique. Now, hip-hop is watered down. Everyone is a carbon copy of each other.”

UM: Who you would like to meet in the future and why?

DC: “I would like to meet [Ray Lewis]. I’ve seen him before, but I have never actually met the man face-to-face. Who else would I like to meet? I would like to meet Nas, Slick Rick, Papoose and many other artists that I believe are inspirational. I listen to their music when I illustrate. If I were to meet those brothers; I would thank them for inspiring me to illustrate. I’d love to break bread with them and tell them how inspired I am to do what I do and that’s moving forward in a positive light.”

To purchase prints or learn about David Charles visit

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