Charles Alston combines primitive and African influences with bright colors and a fascinating surface to convey the loose movements of a jazz dance

Charles Henry Alston

American, 1907–1977

Dancers, 1949

Oil on canvas

29 ½ x 39 ¾ inches

Signed lower left; signed and titled verso

An accomplished painter, sculptor, and muralist, Alston was a pioneer in many regards. He was the first African American to teach at the Art Students League in New York. He was the first African American supervisor in the WPA, managing the completion of the Harlem Hospital murals. He cofounded Studio 306 in Harlem, which offered classes for children and adults and became a center for black artists, writers, actors, and musicians. He was the first African American to be appointed to the Art Commission of New York City, which awarded public sculpture and mural commissions.

Alston loved jazz and began painting jazz themes in the 1930s. In Dancers, the rhythm of the music is expressed through the tilt of the figures’ heads, the bend of their backs and knees, and the lightness of their feet. In addition to his fluid strokes of paint, Alston often used a palette knife to add texture and interest to a painting. Dancers combines primitive and African influences with bright colors and a fascinating surface to convey the loose movements of a jazz dance.

Charles Alston combines primitive and African influences with bright colors and a fascinating surface to convey the loose movements of a jazz dance