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UH Painting Professor Wins Rome Prize in Visual Art

Michael Ray Charles looks forward to intensive research and creative exploration at the American Academy of Rome.

Michael Ray Charles is a big name in contemporary art. 

Deemed a “great artist” by none other than filmmaker Spike Lee, the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Painting is known for complex, layered paintings that confront cultural hierarchies, implicit power dynamics and social stereotypes. 

He often tackles sensitive issues of difference, particularly in American history, in his work, placing an emphasis on race, identity, history and the impact of of language on the social psyche. “I’m interested in how language functions in society, how language is used to construct meaning and how language impacts the way we perceive the world around us.”

This fall, Charles is taking his talents overseas as a recipient of the 2018 – 19 Rome Prize in Visual Arts.

The Rome Prize, awarded to artists and scholars at the forefront of their disciplines, is considered one of the most prestigious awards a practicing artist can receive. As a recipient, Charles will spend nearly a year, beginning this September, at the American Academy in Rome. There, he will delve into advanced independent work alongside fellow Rome Prize recipients in the arts and humanities.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to develop new work in an immersive, intellectually rich environment,” says Beckham Dossett, director of the UH School of Art. She adds that the award not only speaks to Charles’ stature in the art world, but also to the rigor he brings to his creative practice. “It’s a testament to the caliber of his work and what he contributes to the University of Houston.” 

Charles has plans for a new series informed by the transatlantic slave trade. He looks forward to the process of investigation, and to the unique luxury of having a dedicated time and space for creative exploration.

“I’m excited, about the time to commit to new work informed by this amazing environment.”