Artist Feature: Kerry James Marshall Artist Feature: Kerry James Marshall
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Artist Feature: Kerry James Marshall

Artist Feature: Kerry James Marshall

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Nov 24, 2023

The rich imagery of a Kerry James Marshall painting is full of color, emotion, and memory. Each new piece he creates embraces blackness as a signifier of difference, to explore the relationship of black people to American identity, the lack of black people as subjects or creators in the main canon of art history, and to renegotiate the American conception of beauty.

Marshall paints his figures with skin that is often pure black, referencing a kind of essential identity of blackness that has been socially constructed. He re-appropriates this construction as a way to express universal experiences and celebrate communal triumphs.

Kerry James Marshall was born in Birmingham, Alabama, where he spent much of his young childhood. As a teen, he lived in LA and was impacted by the nearby Black Panther Party headquarters. He started studying drawing under the artist Charles White, who became his mentor through the end of White’s life.

Marshall studied at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles before becoming a MacArthur Fellow. Later, Marshall became a professor and eventually served on President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. 

Marshall’s paintings are extremely diverse in subject. They include the homes of middle-class black families, black families living in decaying housing projects, surrealist images, and snapshots of everyday black life at restaurants, on first dates, at a barbershop, or resting at home.

He also frequently paints in the vein of the Old Masters, including images of artists painting themselves, regal portraits, and heroic voyages. In these paintings, Marshall recasts as an entirely black narrative the whitewashed version of art history that we cling onto.

The artists, subjects, heroes, villains, and nobility are all black. The erasure of nonwhite artists in the Western art history canon will never be fully reversed. Many of these artists have been fully scrubbed from historical records, but artists like Marshall can imagine it differently, expose the fraudulent and incomplete version of art history that we still teach ourselves, and start new conversations.

Buy The Not Just Dead White Guys Coloring Book featuring Kerry James Marshall!

kerry james marshall color

Kerry James Marshall | Art by Kat Sampson

 

Kerry James Marshall

Born: 1955

“At a certain point, you have to decide whether you’d be satisfied always acknowledging the beauty and the greatness of what other people create or if you want to be in the same arena.”

Marshall is one of the most famous working artists in the world because of his ability to portray emotion, intimacy, and grief. His paintings are stunningly expressive, and his figures convey their precise emotions in their expressions, poses, and navigation of the painted space.

He is a truly unapproachable painter in skill, with the intellectual rigor, conceptual experimentation, and storytelling ability that truly makes him one of the American Masters of painting. 

Buy The Not Just Dead White Guys Coloring Book featuring Kerry James Marshall!

artist

In collaboration with Kat Sampson, we present The Not Just Dead White Guys coloring book with 24 vibrant portraits, showcasing diverse artists, both deceased and living. Half are contemporary artists, including Kerry James Marshall who are shaping the art scene today, while the others are important historical figures. Join us to celebrate their diverse contributions and create a more inclusive art world!

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Nov 24, 2023