Kerry James Marshall - Retrospective "Mastry" at the Met Breuer Museum
Kerry James Marshall, one of my favorite portrait artists will have his highly anticipated retrospective Mastry at the Met Breuer Museum, which opens October 25th. The retrospective debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to critical acclaim earlier this year and after New York will be shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. I remember coming across Mr. Marshall's paintings for the first time during a visit to a collector's home in Chicago, where he's lived since 1987.
Lucky enough to be exposed to art history books and museums at a young age, Mr Marshall found his calling and went on to train as a classical artist, spending many years studying the art of figure-drawing. He absorbed the techniques perfected by his idols, such as Rembrandt and Veronese and his works hang comfortably alongside Old Masters such as Toulouse-Lautrec's "woman in the garden of Monsieur Forest" at his retrospective. He also won a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1997.
When interviewed by Randy Kennedy for The New York Times, in his studio situated on the south side of Chicago, Mr Marshall explained that "working from live models is too much trouble; it takes too much time." Instead he prefers to work from his invaluable collection of plastic noggins, severed from bobblehead dolls of black sports figures and entertainers. He finds they are "actually incredibly accurate. I can look at them from any angle, and they give me a basis of facial structure and head shape."
In a career that spans almost 40 years, Mr Marshall set himself the task of focusing on figurative painting, portraying black people in everyday situations, who were rarely if ever represented in museums or art galleries. His paintings, solely of black figures are in various forms of portraiture, history painting, allegory, fête champêtre and seascape. As he points out, "If I didn't do it, how else are they going to be seen?"
Ian Alteveer, an associate curator of modern and comtemporary art at the Met and one of the principal organizers of the show clearly captures the essence of Mr. Marshall's work - "He believes very strongly in speaking in the old master language. He sees it as a continuum, and he sees things like conceptual art as aberrant, maybe, but certainly not as the way he was going to achieve what he wanted." I totally get it and I love it...