Kerry James Marshall was born in Alabama in 1955, but raised in Los Angeles. He graduate from Otis College of Art and Design in 1978. Growing up in L.A. had a strong influence of Marshall’s work as he was there to observe the Black Power and Civil Rights movements. His work often reflects how these movements effected domestic life.
“One of the reasons I paint black people is because I am a black person …” he says. “There are fewer representations of black figures in the historical record …”
Kerry James Marshall has painted many different subjects throughout his career. Some early works depicted events from African American History, with the use of symbols in the composition to enhance Marshall’s way of telling the story. He is also known for painting scenes of everyday life, such as in a barbershop or children riding bikes. Perhaps a common thread throughout much of Kerry James Marshall’s work is addressing the issue of African Americans feeling they are connected to two different cultures or contrasting realities. This can be seen in La Venus Negra where he experimented with the idea of black beauty in contrast to Western ideals by showing black woman in the goddess role historically held by white women. His series Garden Project explores the differences between idealized intentions and the reality of public housing.
Marshall expresses his subjects in large-scale paintings, comic drawings and sculptures. He was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 1997 and has received many other honors and awards.
A major survey, Kerry James Marshall: MASTRY was shown The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Met Breuer; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. His work is included in many important private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Birmingham Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.