Call him a “Creator”. “I make things”, is what this master artist humbly says. Charles Dickson, woodcarver, sculptor, photographer, scientist, builder, designer, artist extraordinaire, was born in Watts and has lived in Compton, California for the last fifty years.
Charles was a child prodigy. “I started carving when I was five. By the time I was eight, I was under the blanket with a flashlight, chipping away at wood. They couldn’t stop me from whittling even though I was allergic to the materials.”
Dickson has always created art; he is a master at hand-carving acrylic, wood, and stone and also works with metal. He created a form of plastic he calls HISPUF and recently created a photography process he calls “Photo Alchemy”. Some call him genius. At an early age he was considered a master sculptor. His classmates at Fremont High School in Watts called him “little Michelangelo”. Dickson considers himself a “divinely inspired” artist. Despite being untrained academically, he has lectured at schools like Otis College of Art and Design.
By age nineteen, Dickson was exhibiting with internationally known mixed media artist John Outterbridge and painter William Pajaud. He was mentored by others in the California Black Arts Movement like icon Noah Purifoy. He has had life-changing conversations with other masters, painter Charles White and sculptor Richmond Barthé. Willie Middlebrook shared photography secrets with him. Dickson is a legend in the California Black Arts Movement and is one of the few artists from the Movement still living today.
Dickson’s public artwork spans decades and can be found throughout Southern California. He was the first artist commissioned for the Mariposa Metro Green-Line Station. From the custom-designed benches in the seating area, to the reliefs on the walls and the pyramid capturing the sun at a certain time of day, the station says Charles Dickson was here. “Wishing on a Star”, a ten-foot futuristic sculpture of repurposed materials proudly anchors the front of the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.
Dickson’s sculpture for the “Destination Crenshaw” project, scheduled to be unveiled in Los Angeles, CA in Spring 2023 is, by far, his largest public art statement. Titled “Car Culture”, it stands more than twenty-feet high and has fiber optic cables woven in on the top. Created out of stainless steel, three African “Senufo” statues that stand “back to back forming a tripod, with car figures displayed as the collective crown. The shiny metal statues are a statement of belonging. They will welcome the public entering the apex of Black culture in the city, Leimert Park. The work represents a pivotal time on Crenshaw Boulevard that says, “We were here”. Dickson will be offering miniature images in limited editions along with an exhibition about the making of the work.
Exposing the world to the cultural significance, beauty, and gifts of people of African descent is Dickson’s purpose. Works of Black female nudes, in particular, are his focus. “I want black women to see themselves in what I create. That’s very important to me. They are your mother, sister, aunt, daughter. They are not sexualized or politicized. They are independent, authentic, and real.”
“African Americans’ influence, strength, and creative genius inform my work, which is rooted in ancient African figures from Senufo artisans. I have always used them, but didn’t really recognize their whispers. Now the world has documentation of the creative essence of undefeated people.”
Charles Dickson (center) in discussion
with other artists and friends.
© 2022 by The Dickson Studio. Created by Kase Qtr.