Kerry James Marshall

The National Gallery East Building has towers. One of these towers houses a show by Kerry James Marshall at present. I was not familiar with this artist, but I'm a very curious person, so of course I had to check it out.

My first impression was visual. His work is large and colorful, which I enjoy. On closer inspection, I realized that the paintings are on canvas, but hung by grommets like a tarp; (you can see this clearly in the third photo). I wonder if this was a choice was supposed give "meaning," was an aesthetic choice (?) or if the artist merely chooses to buy actual tarps to paint upon.....
(Since I had just viewed the Ballet Russes exhibit which featured stage back drops, the similarity was perhaps more striking.)

My favorite piece in the room was "Great America."

It was visually stunning. I love the way Marshall paints his figures. They are black, and I mean BLACK with no shading, but with facial features and body parts in outline. It may sound simplistic, but he gets all of the shape and proportion perfect and it is a powerful effect. The displayed information noted that the waves at the front of the boat are painted in the style of Japanese prints. He has also included some veves; these are symbols of Haitian voodoo, but they are quite whimsical in appearance.

Born in 1955, in Birmingham, Alabama, but raised in a Chicago suburb, Marshall uses his work to document what he feels is the African-American experience. Many of his pieces have water in them, and almost always he has bodies, heads, or skulls in the water referencing the many Africans who died in the passage to America on slave ships. I found this element powerful and it made pause to consider and reflect on the truth of that. Below, are two more works from the exhibit, "Plunge" and "Our Town." Both are full of narrative, but leave some ambiguity for the viewer to discern what is happening, so I will leave that to you.

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