"WHY THIS IDEA OF MASTERY IS IMPORTANT,
it’s precisely because if you wanna get-in-the-game,
you gotta play it at the level of that of the people who are playing it at the highest level, are playing it at;
and the only way you can do that, really,
is to know what they know,
be able to do what they do,
and then figure out how to put all of those things
together and synthesize them in such a way that you can project your ideal into the world, so that it has an equal chance of assuming the preferred position
as any of the other things that were already out there."
- MASTER KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
Born on October 17th, 1955, in Birmingham, Alabama, Master Kerry James Marshall knew early on that he wanted to be an artist. At ten, he moved with his family and spent his childhood years in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, where the Black Power and Civil Rights movements impacted his artwork. “You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955 and grow up in South Central near the Black Panthers headquarters, and not feel like you’ve got some kind of social responsibility,” he's said about his upbringing.
Master Marshall composes and speaks volumes with each artwork he creates. A professor and Master Artist, a sense of his aesthetic is brought by his subjects. His paintings offer glimpses into the beauty of his world, of everyday people in mundane, or not so mundane, moments. His paintings invite conversation. We enter a world, and are invited to listen and learn.
"Small Pin-up (Lens Flare)" 2013
His dynamic compositions are witty, delightful and intriguing. He thoughtfully builds scenes with characters in their environment and interrogates the time. His work is multidimentional, where subtle visual cues give the viewer hints, ring bells, or stir a wheel in mind. Master Kerry James Marshall's practice extends to comics and works in animation.
Master Marshall's first major solo exhibition was organized at the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago in 1998 and traveled throughout the country. His work has been exhibited in many American and international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (2003) and the Documenta (1997 and 2007). In April 2016, his retrospective Mastry debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago as, "the largest retrospective to date" of Master Marshall's art; it spanned the artist's 35-year career and included nearly 80 original pieces. In October 2016, the retrospective traveled to the Met Breuer in New York City. He had a solo exhibition in 2018, Kerry James Marshall: Works on Paper at Cleveland Museum of Art.
Active and rigorous, Master Marshall received the Genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 1997. In 1999, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California. In 2017, the City of Chicago recognized him with the Star Award, for his contributions to Chicago. In September 2020, Master Marshall, with Jordan Casteel, painted one of the two covers Vogue US released. He chose to create a fictional character for his Vogue cover. “I’m trying to build into her expression that she’s not dependent on the gaze of the spectator,” he told Vogue. “‘I’m here and you can see me, but I’m not here for you.’ That’s a critical element. The great word, ultimately, is going to be ‘self-possessed.’ That’s what I’m aiming for.”
His work is included in many public museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Harvard Art Museums, Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, amongst others. Author and professor Mimi Sheller describes in her essay for Hyperallergic, "his work fits into and extends black visual culture, black feminist art, and what he calls 'black aesthetics.'’
Kerry James Marshall US Vogue September 2020 Cover Painting
“If you’re going to be painting a face as Black as I’m painting them, they can’t just be a cipher, like a black hole. They have to be mysterious but available,” said Master Marshall. “If you say, ‘Black is beautiful,’ you have to show it. And what I’m doing is showing it at the extreme. Yes, it is black—very black—and it is very beautiful.”
"It's not whether a thing is painting, photography, sculpture, installation, abstract, or representational. That's not really where the critical value of a thing lies. It actually has more to do with the particular treatment of each one of those different media," Master Marshall said in an interview with David Moleski for Juxtapoz Magazine.
"There are some things that you can't even imagine unless you already believe you have the capability of making it happen. As you know more and have more skills, you can do more and imagine more things. That seems fundamental. I encourage people to do everything and take nothing for granted.There are no shortcuts," his advice to young artists.
"Portrait of a Curator (In Memory of Beryl Wright)" 2009
"The Actor Hezekiah Washington as Julian Carlton Taliesen Murderer
of Frank Lloyd Wright Family" 2009
"School of Beauty, School of Culture" 2012
MASTER KERRY JAMES MARSHALL