Charles Robert Searles

American, 1937 - 2004
Charles Robert Searles (July 11, 1937 – November 27, 2004) was a highly regarded African American artist, born in Philadelphia in 1937. His artistic journey spanned from the 1960s until his passing in 2004, leaving a lasting impact on the art world. Searles received his education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he honed his skills and laid the foundation for his prolific career.
A pivotal moment in Searles' artistic trajectory was marked by the Cresson Traveling Scholarship and the Ware Traveling Memorial Scholarships, awarded to him in 1972. These scholarships enabled him to embark on transformative journeys to Nigeria, Ghana, and Morocco, significantly influencing his artistic perspective. Notably, Searles was among the select Black students who received the prestigious Cresson scholarship, joining the ranks of accomplished artists like Laura Wheeler Waring, Ellen Powell Tiberino, Raymond Saunders, and Louis B. Sloan.
Upon returning from his travels, Searles channeled his experiences into a captivating series of works titled "Nigerian Impressions." In 1972, he created the remarkable piece "Filas for Sale," a vivid portrayal featuring colorful images of masks and intricate patterns that filled the canvas. This work demonstrated Searles' ability to weave cultural influences into his art.
Searles' artistic prowess garnered recognition, leading to his first commission to paint a mural at the William H. Green Federal Building in Philadelphia in 1974. The mural, titled "Celebration," became a noteworthy study, owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The acrylic on canvas masterpiece, measuring 27 1/2 x 81 3/4 inches, depicted masked dancers and vibrant figures.
A notable aspect of Searles' oeuvre was his inspiration drawn from music, evident in his acclaimed "Dancers" series in 1975. One of the standout pieces from this series, "Dance of the Twin Souls," is showcased at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum, showcasing his exceptional ability to capture movement in his work.
Having lived in Philadelphia until 1978, Searles later relocated to New York City. In the 1980s, he ventured into sculptural works, creating large-scale pieces like "Warrior" (1987) and "Freedom's Gate" (2000), ranging between 8 and 10 feet in height.
Charles Robert Searles left an enduring legacy in the art world, surviving through his impactful body of work. His contributions were acknowledged in the 2015 exhibition "We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s" at the Woodmere Art Museum. He is remembered not only for his artistic brilliance but also for his lasting influence on the cultural landscape. Searles is survived by his wife, Kathleen Spicer, and his daughter, Vanessa Mitchell.
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