Michael Ray Charles
(Lafayette, Louisiana, LA, USA, 1967)

(Forever Free) Rising Tide, 2006

Acrylic latex and copper penny on board
158 x 221 x 10 cm
[Photo: Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio, © ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy Pascale Marthine Tayou and GALLERIA CONTINUA, by SIAE 2021]

Along with his contemporaries Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall, Michael Ray Charles was a pioneer in exploring the representation of the African American community in American Pop history and culture. By appropriating some of the 20th century’s most demeaning images, his practice subverts the common perception of identity and racial discrimination. 

(Forever Free) Rising Tide (2006) refers to the event of the Hurricane Katrina that struck Florida in August 2005, causing the death of 1,800 people and 100 million dollars in damage. The artist returns to the sociopolitical consequences of this catastrophe in the city of New Orleans, which he is particularly fond of. Before the lack of protection on the part of the institutions and the absence of financial assistance, the residents felt abandoned and discriminated against. The five anonymous heads on canvas, their faces twisted with rage and desperation, symbolize this difficulty: drifting, in a sea of brown hair, they find shelter in towers that resemble lifesavers.

Michael Ray Charles lives and works in Houston, Texas. He studied design and advertising before being awarded a BFA degree in 1989. He went on to obtain an MFA in 1993 at the University of Houston. His work features in a wide range of public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Arizona State University Art Museum and San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas. His work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in New York City, Düsseldorf, Paris, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Miami, and Santa Fe. Charles worked as a Professor of Art in the department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin until 2014 and, in the same year, was appointed the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Painting in the School of Art at the University of Houston.