When Charles Gaines was in elementary school in Newark, N.J., one of his teachers noticed that this son of a construction worker and seamstress was skilled at drawing.
“My teacher told my mom that she should encourage me to go into art because I could be the ‘first black artist,' “ Gaines remembers with a chuckle. “Of course, there was already a rich black history in art, but nobody knew it because it wasn't taught.”
He went on to attend an arts high school in Newark and pursue art as a career. But at first, art was hardly his passion.
“I look at myself in those days as being unconscious,” says the artist, whose early...