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The Continual Struggle

The American Freedom Movement and the Seeds of Social Change.


The Continual Struggle is artist Brian Washington’s ongoing body of artwork documenting the Civil Rights Movement and America’s historical struggle against segregation and other forms of race-based disenfranchisement. The Continual Struggle employs visual art as a means of storytelling, vividly recalling a time when people were willing to go into the streets to protest injustice and inequality.

Mr. Washington’s in-depth depiction of sharecropping, non-violent protest, freedom rides, marches, voter registration campaigns, police violence, and the realities that provoked those actions – vividly demonstrate the conflict-ridden nature of social change. Each individual piece is the result of Washington’s research and reflection on this critical era of American history. The use of color has been restricted by the artist in an attempt to show that the feelings of man are ageless and everlasting.

At the age of 20 and still an undergraduate at Duke University, Washington begun blueprinting ideas for the 11-piece first edition of The Continual Struggle, known as “The Continual Struggle: The Civil Rights Movement – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” In 2003 (just three months after its completion), the first edition was acquired in its entirety by the Smithsonian Institution, and placed in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian-affiliated National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The $100-million museum opened in 2004 with six interactive galleries that address slavery, the Civil War, the Underground Railroad and contemporary issues in civil and human rights.

As stated by Duke University professor of Art & Art History, Merrill Shatzman:

“[Washington]’s paintings vividly describe the passion, spiritual, political, and religious elements of the civil rights movement. [Washington}’s paintings are imbued with a sense of empathy that underscores his unique sensibilities not only as an artist, but as a person. Through his acute sense of design and draftsmanship, and his bold use of value, Brian Washington has created a powerful contemporary viewpoint on this most altering time period...”

Shatzman’s observations are shared by the chairman of the Freedom Center, the Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones -- a retired 6th Circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals, and a legendary civil rights figure. Jones states that:

“…[W]hile the shifting scenes so skillfully created by Brian Washington in his remarkable historical panoply portraying the struggle to transform America appear, at first to be soft and warm, the viewer, upon closer examination, is struck by a contrasting realism that is penetrating and unsettling. Yet, Washington, through his artistry, succeeds in evoking a sense of the ultimate triumph of justice over oppression, which is the great lesson of the civil rights struggle, a lesson that cannot be over-taught.”

It is perhaps his lack of formal training that has led Washington into developing his distinctive artistic style that has quickly become appealing to both casual and high-end art collectors. Mr. Washington’s works have been added to the collection of several high-profile individuals, including President Bill Clinton. Washington admirers often denote his striking restricted use of color, bold and fluid movement, and ability to intellectually challenge the viewer as the greatest attributes of his work. Washington’s unique style of illustration (which he calls “dramatacism”) restricts color while exaggerating light and dark tones, giving his paintings a rich, moody, and ethereal quality.

Washington considers art to be the ultimate outlet for personal expression, and one of his primary artistic goals is education. In his words, he “hopes to take all the pain, sacrifice, and emotion of those who have fought for freedom before [him], and capture the struggle at the tip of a pencil or paintbrush.” It is this connection with the struggles of the past – and fervent dedication to use these struggles as lessons to forge a better future – that give his art a broad-based, universal appeal.

Washington became so inspired through his work on the original Continual Struggle series, that he now resides in Los Angeles, California, where has recently completed his work on the second edition of The Continual Struggle Collection, entitled “The Continual Struggle: The American Civil Rights Saga and the Seeds of Social Change.” Edition 2 is a large scale collection of 23 monochromatic charcoal paintings that take a symbolic look at the struggle for civil rights and the upward mobility of African Americans from the days of sharecropping to contemporary times.

Washington, who in addition to his artistic endeavors is also a prominent Los Angeles based attorney, sees multiple parallels between his art and legal education. “They are really two different means of getting to the same end,” said. “I want to raise awareness of certain issues and fight for what I believe is right. I want to be a voice for those who don’t, or can’t, raise theirs.” In what can been seen as an affirmation of this goal, Washington was awarded the “2010 Humanitarian Award” by the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) of Southern California for his civil rights related work. Mr. Washington was also recently named amongst a select group of young attorneys named “2013 Rising Stars” by the Los Angeles Times and Super Lawyers magazine.

On January 3, 2016, after a decade-long gestation and development period, Washington's epic second edition of The Continual Struggle (entitled "The Continual Struggle: The American Freedom movement and the Seeds of Social Change") opened its doors (amid significant critical acclaim and national media attention) for a four-month museum exhibition run at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin. Texas. 


In a historic development, Washington's paintings were paired in the museum's venerable Great Hall with original, authentic, never-seen-before written correspondence between President  Lyndon Baines Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. Amongst a groundswell of public support, media attention, and critical acclaim -- the exhibit set an opening day attendance record at the museum, besting a previous record held by an exhibit at the museum featuring the legendary  musical group, The Beatles.

Just a few months after its record-setting run at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, TX, the exhibit traveled to Atlanta, GA, for a subsequent 4-month exhibition run at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. The exhibit opened during the museum's celebration of America's 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, which included a speech delivered by President Jimmy Carter, and was attended by several high-profile celebrities, politicians, and dignitaries. 

The Continual Struggle, Installation View, The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

About two months into the exhibition's run, the museum (in conjunction with Duke University, Washington's alma mater), hosted the Brian Washington Continual Struggle VIP Soirée and Exhibition Gala (attended by Washington) which featured an appearance by the Artist himself, as well as several members of his team, who treated visiting museum patrons to a narrated tour of the exhibit, as well as a host of other educational, and celebratory interactions between the Artist and his admirers. 

Enthralled museum patrons admire and discuss the extreme detail and emotional power of Washington's works with the Artist himself in attendance and greeting patrons

Shortly thereafter, Washington was featured amongst America's most preeminent social activist artists, in a high profile (international) story featured in USA TODAY.

Artist Brian Washington, as featured in USA TODAY

In the midst of the tremendous accolades and acclaim that the Continual Struggle has received in the short time period since its debut, President Bill Clinton has endorsed the project, labeling it (amongst other things) as a "masterwork of [American] art, a poignant depiction of America!s journey to perfect its union, and a remarkable contribution to America's discussion of the issues it confronts."

The Continual Struggle will be touring the American Presidential Museum circuit over the next several years, concluding with an exhibition at the Truman Presidential Library and Museum in 2020. 

The Brian Washington, Continual Struggle section of museum bookstores


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