Oil on linen canvas, 1961. 1270x1524 mm; 50x60 inches. Signed in oil, lower right.
Provenance: the estate of the artist and Randall Galleries, New York; Essie Green Galleries, New York; private collection. Titled in ink on a paper label on the frame back. In the artist's papers in the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a photograph of this painting that is inscribed "Black & White #8, o/c, 50x60" in ink on the verso.
Exhibited: Charles Alston, The Gallery of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 1968 - January 5, 1969. This retrospective, sponsored by Farleigh Dickinson University, included 53 paintings and 3 sculptures by Alston, including all eight of the Black and White paintings. They were exhibited alongside his other important series African Theme,Blues Singer and from the 1950s and 60s in this new New York museum designed by Edward Durell Stone at 2 Columbus Circle. In their chapter on Charles Alston, Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson wrote that Alston "considered the black and white abstractions in a retrospective shown in 1968 to be amongst his most important he had done."
Black and White #8, a dynamic and beauthiful abstraction by Charles Alston, is the largest and most important painting of his to come to auction. Alston painted this important series of eight abstract paintings between 1959 and 1961. By 1960, Alston had achieved wide recognition for his post war painting, including the Emily Lowe Memorial award for his painting An Ancient Place, and a solo exhibition at Feingarten Galleries, New York that year. Like his friend Norman Lewis, Alston found that the limited palette of black and white provided both aesthetic and narrative themes that enabled his abstraction to reflect a social and political consciousness. Alston and Lewis both effectively gave the color black new meaning at the height of the Civil Rights era struggles. In Black and White #8., Alston masterfully creates tension in an expressive composition of opposites, alternating between stark contrasts and blurred boundaries.
Another painting from this series, Black and White II, circa 1960 is in the collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Two other known paintings from this series are illustrated in Alvia J. Wardlaw's Charles Alston monograph, Black and White #1, 1959 and Black and White #7, 1961, which was also included in the Brooklyn Museum 2015 traveling exhibition Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties.
The Black and White series also laid the foundation for Alston's work in Sprial. As a founding member of the artist's group in the summer of 1963, Alston, alongside the other abstract painters Lewis, Merton Simpson and Hale Woodruff, advocated for an art that could address black identity and the social and political issues confronting African Americans during the Civil Rights struggle. The Spiral group's first and only exhibition First Group Showing: Works in Black and White, May 14 - June 5, 1965, continued his monochromatic theme. Bearden/Henderson, Jr., p. 269; Wardlaw p. 91 and 93.