Artist Charles Bibbs Brings Black History to Life on Canvas

Artwork commemorates Black History Month at Palm Springs Art Museum

Charles Bibbs with the start of a new painting in his "Mask Series," a collaboration with Maurice Howard, an aspiring artist from Bibb's visual arts organizations, Art2000.

Marcia Gawecki photos


The African American art wave began for Charles Bibbs when he saw “The Cosby Show” in 1984.

For the first time, African American art was being shown on national TV with its bold colors, dignity, and strong cultural roots.

“Up until then, most black houses in America had three things on their walls: a portrait of Martin Luther King, a portrait of President John F. Kennedy and a white portrait of Jesus Christ,” says Bibbs, an artist, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

The Riverside resident believes young black people need strong art images to help them develop confidence. His own home is filled -- floor to ceiling -- with a collection of African American paintings, sculptures and masks.

“I wake up every morning and look around at all this beautiful art and feel calm,” he says.

“Civil Rights in America: Where Do We Stand Now?” hosted by the Palm Springs Black History Committee and the City of Palm Springs, will feature artwork by Bibbs and Synthia Saint James, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 28 at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Bibbs work includes mixed media paintings, drawings and sculptures that fuse African American and Native American cultures.

“Mostly what people like about my art is its movement and flow,” he says.

A Bibbs standout piece in the show chronicles black history in America from slavery to Martin Luther King to the March on Washington and the 50 years since then. All of the images are confined to a larger image of an elderly woman.

Two of Bibbs’ pieces in the show are collaborations with Synthia Saint James, a longtime friend.

Reaching the Masses

Since “The Cosby Show” was showcasing the works of Varnette Honeywood, Bibbs set out to push his own artwork out to the masses via New York trade shows.

“I wasn’t interested in reaching the one percent who could already afford art,” Bibbs says. “I wanted to reach the 99 percent.”

Bibbs worked with distribution companies to reprint his images at cut-rate prices, but enabled him to reach 100,000 people.

In 2008, Bibbs’ art gained national attention with the film, “The Secret Life of Bees,” starring Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning. His image of a Black Madonna was an integral part of the movie, which took many renditions to achieve.

A framed print of the Black Madonna is displayed on a gold easel in his home (see photo above).

Helping Others

To take a closer look at African American art in America, Bibbs started the magazine, “Images,” which lasted for 12 years. Now he’s putting together a book compilation of past issues.

He’s also an artist who never stops working.

“Sometimes I tell my wife Elaine that I’m not coming home,” Bibbs says of his studio that is 20 yards from his house. “She understands that it’s important to keep the flow going.”

He also promotes “The Five,” a group of aspiring young black artists from his own visual arts organization, Art2000.

“It’s important to teach them about the business of art,” says Bibbs, a former manager at McDonnell Douglas. “They have to look at art as a product and themselves as the manufacturer.”

Like what you're reading? Then "Like" us on Facebook and "follow" us on Twitter.


VIDEO: Artist Charles Bibbs explains what attracts the public to his artwork.

Add your comment:
Desert Guide

Related Articles

Explore Palm Springs: Jack Freeman Serves Up the Stars

In the 1930s, Jack Freeman's time at the Village Pharmacy in Palm Springs brought him in contact with stars like John Wayne, Rudy Vallee, and William Powell.

12 Places to Dine During Dog Days of August in Palm Springs

August in the Palm Springs area means some restaurants close, but which ones remain open? We've put together a list of a dozen with a table waiting for you.

Rocket Fizz Offers Blast From the Past Candy, Soda

Rocket Fizz has moved to downtown Palm Springs,recreatings the candy store once the epicenter of every child’s sweet dreams.

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs Unleashes "Top Rock" Entertainment

New music, new dance numbers and special effects highlight the return of the "Top Rock" musical tribute show to the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs.

Top 10 Road Trip Videos in Greater Palm Springs Area

Some of the most unique and interesting places to visit are within an easy drive of the Greater Palm Springs area.

Promotions + Contests

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couple’s getaway
90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Each month, a first place winner will be selected to win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!And, each month, three additional runners up will be selected to win a wonderful Palm Springs area Dining certificate!
2013/14 Best of the Best

2013/14 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest

Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest

Enter your “Cutest Pet” photo in the Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest. Online users will be able to like the Cutest Pet photos from six (6) categories.