Thinking outside the museum

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From the Studio Blog

Kerry James Marshall on Painting Blackness as a Noun Vs. Verb

Growing up, Kerry James Marshall was troubled by a distinct lack of African-American representation in art and in the larger media landscape. Often encountering images of brutality and suffering, he sought to change the narrative by crafting works that acted as a celebration of black life and identity. From depicting children at a July 4th barbecue, to two figures slow dancing in their living room, Marshall’s works proved to be tender, powerful, and a welcome addition to the Western canon.His figures are always rendered in a deep, rich black, inspired by a disarming trend he noticed taking hold in the 1980s. “The only way [black artists] could stay with the black figure was by compromising it,” he remarked, “by either fragmenting it, or otherwise distorting it, by making it green, blue or yellow, or some other way to deflect the idea of its blackness.”

Marshall has continued in this fashion for decades, crafting monumental, mural-size paintings of powerful and jubilant black subjects in every-day settings. Coming off the heels of his first career survey, Marshall has elevated from important contemporary figure to undisputed master. In this excerpt from Phaidon’s brand new monograph, Kerry James Marshall, the artist sits down with conceptual artist Charles Gaines. The two discuss Marshall’s childhood in South Central Los Angeles, his approach to art-as-activism, and the inspiration behind his landmark work, Self Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self (1980). 
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