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Artist Spotlight: Kerry James Marshall

 Photo source interviewmagazine.com

Photo source interviewmagazine.com

Kerry J. Marshall is an African American contemporary artist who creates colorful, vibrant works of art that draw his audience’s attention towards the richness of black culture. He aims to increase the reputation and representation of African Americans in art, because traditionally African Americans have been portrayed as slaves and property. Marshall uses his art to challenge stereotypes and prejudices against black people.

His most recognizable trademark is his striking all-black figures that he paints on his largescale canvases. Marshall paints his characters all black, because it is a reference to African American’s being identified as “black”. An interesting fact is that Marshall does not use any white paint when painting the color of his character’s skin. He uses three different shades of black paint, which are carbon black, mars black and ivory black. Marshall does this so there is no question that his characters are anything other than black.

Another defining feature of Marshall’s work is that all his characters are seen in domestic settings (like bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms). This is to humanize the characters and show them in “normal” settings, unlike the traditional representation of black people being seen as exotic or property.

All of Marshall’s works are influenced by events from his childhood and adolescent years relating to the Civil Rights movement. He witnessed the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing (1963) in Birmingham, Alabama which was an attack made by the Ku Klux Klan, resulting in the deaths of 4 girls. Marshall was 8 years old at the time.

He also witnessed the Watt Riots (1965) in Los Angeles, California and was an active participant in the Black Panther movement in his college years. These impactful events in his life are what inspire his to create powerful, thought-provoking images that make the audience question and think about certain themes, like racists and a lack of representations of African Americans in art. These events really affected Marshall that he uses symbolism in all his works.

For example, Marshall makes connections to the Black Panther movement by using the colors of the Pan-African flag, the symbol of the Black Panther movement, in his paintings. These colors are red, black and green. These colors are seen in artworks like "Stono Group (Keto)" and "Black Star 2".

 Kerry James Marshall, Stono Group (Kato), 2012, Acrylic on PVC, 29 x 34 in

Kerry James Marshall, Stono Group (Kato), 2012, Acrylic on PVC, 29 x 34 in

He also creates artworks that celebrates Civil Right leaders in paintings like “Souvenir I” and “Souvenir II”. In the painting “Souvenir I”, in the black banner three famous Civil Rights leaders are shown; Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Bobby F. Kennedy. The portraits of African Americans who fought for Civil Rights can also be found at the top of the painting.

 Kerry J. Marshall, Souvenir I, 1997, Acrylic, collage and glitter on unstretched canvas, 108 x 156 in, 247.3 x 396.2 cm

Kerry J. Marshall, Souvenir I, 1997, Acrylic, collage and glitter on unstretched canvas, 108 x 156 in, 247.3 x 396.2 cm

In 1978, Marshall graduated from Otis College of Art and Design and went on to apprentice with Charles White, a famous African American artist dedicated in depicting “images of dignity” for black culture.

This apprenticeship allowed Marshall to develop his own style of painting and intentions of helping African Americans rediscover their rich culture which had been largely disregarded and overshadowed by Western art. His goal is to reclaim the negative stereotypes associated with African Americans and show them as powerful. Kerry Marshall's largescale artworks provokes his audience to see African American culture in a different light. His vibrant paintings are thought provoking and truly ground breaking.

 Kerry James Marshall,  Vignette 13 , 2008, Acrylic on PVC, 182,9 x 152,4 cm

Kerry James Marshall, Vignette 13, 2008, Acrylic on PVC, 182,9 x 152,4 cm

 Kerry James Marshall,  Untitled , 2009, Acrylic on PVC, 61 1/8 x 72 7/8 x 3 7/8 in

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled, 2009, Acrylic on PVC, 61 1/8 x 72 7/8 x 3 7/8 in

 Kerry James Marshall,  The Club , 2011, Acrylic on PVC panel, 150 x 122 cm

Kerry James Marshall, The Club, 2011, Acrylic on PVC panel, 150 x 122 cm

 Kerry James Marshall. “School of Beauty, School of Culture,” 2012. Acrylic and glitter on canvas. 8 ft. 11 7/8 in. × 13 ft. 1 7/8 in. Birmingham Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith/

Kerry James Marshall. “School of Beauty, School of Culture,” 2012. Acrylic and glitter on canvas. 8 ft. 11 7/8 in. × 13 ft. 1 7/8 in. Birmingham Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith/

 Kerry James Marshall, “Past Times,” 1997, Acrylic and collage on canvas, 9 ft. 6 in. × 13 ft. Metropolitan Pier and Exhibition Authority, McCormick Place Art Collection, Chicago.

Kerry James Marshall, “Past Times,” 1997, Acrylic and collage on canvas, 9 ft. 6 in. × 13 ft. Metropolitan Pier and Exhibition Authority, McCormick Place Art Collection, Chicago.

Check out some of Kerry J. Marshall’s other art and read his biography: http://www.jackshainman.com/artists/kerryjames-marshall/


Vocabulary

  • Contemporary - modern
  • Stereotype – an oversimplified idea or belief about a group of people.
  • Prejudice – an idea about someone or something that is not based on fact or reason.
  • Trademark – a symbol or image associated with someone or something.
  • Humanize – to give someone or something human qualities.
  • Exotic – special, different, from another country.
  • Civil Rights Movement – a movement that fought for equal rights for African Americans (1954-1968).
  • Ku Klux Klan – also known as the KKK, is an organization that is against African Americans.
  • Thought-provoking – makes someone think more about something.
  • Symbolism – the use of symbols to help with the idea or theme in a work of art.
  • Apprentice – work for a professional to learn a particular skill or craft.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zoya Schmitt is an upcoming senior in High School and plans to study Communications and Graphic design in College. She is an avid reader and enjoys learning more about the English language. In her free time, she designs stickers and plans to open up her own sticker business in the future.


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