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Artist Profile: Charles Sebree

Charles Sebree (1914-1985) was a modernist painter and playwright, from White City, Kentucky. As a child, Sebree moved to Chicago with his mother. He attended the School of the Art Institute. While in college, Sebree joined the Cube Theater Club, where he met dancer and anthropologist Katherine Dunham and writer Alain Locke, who both became major influences in his life. He built a relationship with artists on the city’s South Side, such as Eldzier Cortor and Margaret Taylor-Burroughs, and was involved with the South Side Community Art Center. With an interest in theater, Sebree worked as a playwright, set designer and director and many of his portraits depict performers. He was drafted into WWII, where he met fellow playwright Owen Dodson, and the duo produced several plays at the military camps. After the war, Sebree moved to New York and became connected to the art scene at the tail-end of the Harlem Renaissance, with friends such as Billie Holiday and Miles Davis. He illustrated several books written by author Countee Cullen, and worked with both the American Negro Theater and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. In 1944, Sebree was awarded a Rosenwald Foundation grant. In 1954, Sebree wrote the Broadway musical “Mrs. Patterson” which starred Eartha Kitt. Sebree left New York in the 1960’s and moved to Washington D.C., where he spent the rest of his life. He was a part of numerous exhibitions, including the South Side Community Art Center, Woodmere Art Museum and Katharine Kuh Galleries. His paintings are in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Howard University Art Collection and the Saint Louis Art Museum.


A painting of an abstracted figure wearing a straw boater hat, made up of chunky shapes with thick dark outlines. The figure is looking down, eyes closed, and lips pursed in a circle, as if whistling. The surface is softly textured and mottled and made up of purples, greens, reds, and oranges. Benji (1982)

Painting of an abstracted figure drawn with thick, energetic dark lines, and filled with the same white and gray color as the background. The figure is short and wide and stands with one hand on a hip and the other behind their head.
Saltimbanque (date unknown)

A painting of an abstracted figure made up of crisp geometric shapes filled primarily with yellows, whites, pinks, positioned in front of a dark green background with a warm moon in the sky.
Masked Figure at Night (1950)

 An abstract painting of dark, energetic lines and shapes that loosely trace out some geometric patterns, sometimes resembling eyes, against a mottled brown and green background.
Untitled (1959)
RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY