Charles Searles earned a BFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and started his artistic career as a painter. In 1972, his senior year at the Academy, and after the tragic and painful loss of his daughter, he won a fellowship and traveled to Ghana, Nigeria and Morrocco. This trip marked a turning point. His work focused less on social and political issues and more on African themes. It also became less figurative and more abstract, rhythmic and colorful. Exemplifying this change of direction is Nigerian Impressions, a series of paintings completed after his return from Africa.
In 1978 Searles discontinued painting and began devoting himself exclusively to sculpture. According to Michael Harris, in the St. James Guide to Black Artis however, Searles nevertheless painted the surfaces of his sculptures, indicating that he didn't completely abandon painting.
Searles's work was in numerous solo exhibitions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Pennsylvania Academy of Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey. His work was also in several group shows including Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, New York; High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia; Richmond Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia; State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Searle's work is also in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts; Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, New York City; Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey; and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.