African-American history has played an integral role in the shaping of politics, economics, and culture in the United States. Growing up, how did you learn about the accomplishments and struggles of African Americans? Were you in a classroom? Reading a book? Talking with relatives or friends? How has your understanding or knowledge of African-American history changed and/or developed over time? What do you think is the most effective way to pass along this rich and growing history to future generations?

Charles Dey

As a child, I used to draw on open spaces: tiny shreds of paper, bedroom walls. I’d wake up, chasing stories all around me: the bustle of the busy open market; the tiny cloud of dust that left the road; the constant flow of people passing by me – the sunlight pouring in to greet the morning. My work is my reflection of these moments: life that I have witnessed over time. I thrive in peeling back the hidden layers, filling in life’s movement as it whispers. I get inspired searching for the root – those elements that seem to go unnoticed. This is my foundation as a painter and in my larger vision as an artist.
At night I sit reflecting on my canvas, searching for the muted undertones. I listen to the rhythm found in jazz or in the syncopation of a chord. The colors that I use are juxtaposed, almost like a quiet conversation: a voice that starts out low; then finds a pattern. My tools in many ways are like my compass. My brush helps me create a storyboard: blended scenes – emotions sewn together, gently drenched in hues of watercolor. Most of what I paint comes from traditions: days I spent exploring life in Ghana; the streets I walk down now in urban cities of America – people that I meet along the way. I find the planted seed inside my subjects – the steady pulse that flows through inner channels. I often show that voice through outward symbols, adding in a link to past and present.

My work projects a world always evolving – a world where vivid contrasts blend together. Depending on the concept or my mood, I may decide to solely work with charcoal; other times I choose to use acrylic, departing from my theme of watercolor. Regardless of the texture I decide on, I aim to show the softness in the detail: the glimmer in a squinted open eye, the titled head that hides a slight discomfort – the legs that stretch to show a weeping soul. Every gesture bleeds from different angles. I revel in highlighting these perspectives.

In my latest piece, “Dot Com Blues,” I illustrate my take on mobile media – the essence of a world in constant motion, which I achieve through color saturation. I channel how the signals link together – to ways we stretch beyond our narrow borders, reaching out – defining current trends. Through this piece and my pursuit of advertisement, I hope to show the memory in art: the way the scenes connect to tell a story – the stories that when told bind us together, despite the ways our lives pull us apart.