Kerry James Marshall: History of painting

Kerry James Marshall, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Underpainting), 2018 courtesy of the David Zwirner Gallery
Kerry James Marshall, the American artist, is increasingly being recognised as a significant painter and modern master.  His work confronts questions about what is represented in art and more importantly what has been left out.  In this review of Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting at David Zwirner’s gallery in London, I want to look at the way Marshall uses in-depth knowledge and understanding of art history to inform his work and inspire a new generation of artists.  
 
Kerry James Marshall was born in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in Los Angles.  He currently lives in Chicago.  At the beginning of Marshall’s journey to becoming a successful artist, he started, like most students by learning to copy.  He studied a wide range of art from the great masters from European history to abstract expressionism and pop art and all the essential work in-between.  As a result of Marshall devouring and truly penetrating what had gone on before, he developed a broad theoretical understanding and technical skills.
 

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When it came to choosing his style Marshall had an informed understanding.  He decided to work with a deeply felt, intense narrative style that he learnt from grand European history paintings. Marshall felt this style of picture making is familiar to many people and would be the best way for him to help derive meaning from our lives.  
Kerry James Marshall, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Large Colours) (2018) ©Kerry James Marshall, Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner
The painting titled, ‘Untitled (Underpainting)’ 2018 highlights how Marshall has learnt to evaluate art. It is a painting of African Americans children enjoying and learning about art in a museum.  It references many great works like Samuel Morse’s, ‘Gallery of the Louvre’ (1831-3). A painting where rich, white people are enjoying a rich visual field of pictures in a gallery.  The African Americans figures in the picture are having a great time, enjoying looking at grand paintings made by American Africans.  The narrative blatantly challenges how the identity of African Americans are displayed. 
 

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Kerry James Marshall said, “When most people go to a big museum like the Louvre, it reaffirms their idea of what real art is supposed to look like. And if you keep going to the Louvre and Tate Britain and you don’t see black people in those pictures, then you don’t think black people belong in these kinds of pictures… People need to start thinking that these pictures belong in those places, too.”
 
Portrait painting is often intertwined with character, wealth and status. In Marshall’s portrait paintings we see the world with fresh eyes. In ‘Day and Night’ 2018, he asks us to stop and consider our oversimplified misconceptions.  Marshall’s paintings, ask the viewer to look into the eyes of African Americans, to reconsider the opinions, stories and stereotypes they have been given. To re-evaluate what is valuable, neglected and demeaned.
 
‘Untitled (Large Colours)’ 2018, is a competent abstract painting that deals with the language of painting where discovery and execution happen simultaneously.  It discusses the emotional impact and essence of art.
 

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Marshall’s auction series of works is about the commercial value of art.  It is based on the prices of art at auction. Marshall is understandably asking questions about the importance of art considering he recently sold a painting for £15.6 million at auction.
 
Kerry James Marshall, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Kerry James Marshall History of Painting (May 16 2007), 2018 courtesy of The David Zwirner Gallery
This month Marshall has been named the most influential contemporary artist in the 17th edition of the ArtReview Power 100.   This shows that he has become an inspirational figure to a new generation of artists. Marshall leads the way encouraging them to believe they too can be successful and have their work in these critical artistic establishments.  
 
His approach of starting at the beginning and learning everything of importance has been instrumental in Kerry James Marshall’s success.  With the simple goal of wanting to make the best painting he could, Marshall followed the proven track of many artists. Marshall paints as a form of activism to promote, challenge and ask questions about how people from his background are portrayed.  Now with his painting is institutions around the world, he steps forward as an inspirational artist trying to rebalance the objectivity of art intuitions.  Marshall leads the way to change the way art and art establishment conducts its view of the world. 

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