Kerry James Marshall



Abrams, 2000. Kerry James Marshall, one of America’s greatest living painters. Born before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, in Birmingham, Alabama, and witness to the Watts riots in 1965, Marshall has long been an inspired and imaginative chronicler of the African American experience. Best known for large-scale interiors, landscapes, and portraits featuring powerful black figures, Marshall explores narratives of African American history from slave ships to the present and draws upon his deep knowledge of art history from the Renaissance to twentieth-century abstraction, as well as other sources such as the comic book and the muralist tradition. With luscious color and brushstrokes and highly detailed patterning, his direct and intimate scenes of black middle-class life conjure a wide range of emotions, resulting in powerful paintings that confront the position of African Americans throughout American history. Marshall, who has as much to say about art as he does about racial identity and representation. Between Marshall’s own forceful essay and the illuminating contributions of contemporary art curator Terrie Sultan and artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa, readers will discern the genesis of Marshall’s belief that old-fashioned technical proficiency and true clarity of intent are essential to making authentic art. Having declared early on that each figure he painted would be black and each image would be one “that spoke directly to the issue of blackness,” Marshall has created dramatic and arch narrative works that bring about collisions between white middle-class iconography and symbols of black culture both genuine and imposed. And he has deliberately linked his work to art’s grand tradition, subtly alluding to such masters as Rembrandt and Jacob Lawrence.