Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting

Day, 2018

"In a way, the title of the show is kind of a challenge to myself, a way back into the work in the studio after the public obligations associated with following the retrospective ... With History of Painting, I want to at least take a stab at examining not only the origins of painting as a practice, but also the endpoint of what paintings end up being after their original use has been exhausted." Kerry James Marshall

Night, 2018

There was so much happening art-wise in London last month all generated by Frieze London. Many of the galleries brought out the big guns in an effort to impress and generate sales. It was a pleasure to see Kerry James Marshall's work once again feature in Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting at David Zwirner. This show marks a slight departure from his usual style of work. It is great to see an established artist of his stature still interested enough, and willing to experiment, taking risks with his work to challenge both himself and his audience.

Untitled, 2018

The show featured some of his signature figurative paintings peopled by jet-black bodies in an effort to redress the balance of the under-representation of blacks in Western art traditions. There was an interesting twist on his usual figures in Black Boy, below, in which he takes the viewer back to perhaps their earliest art making ventures in primary school, where children apply a multicolour crayon ground to paper which is then covered with black ink or paint, and a design then scratched into the surface to reveal the underlying colours in the ground. It was only on stepping back from the painting that I realised that the letters - b o y, form the eyes and jawline of the boy's portrait.

Black Boy, 2018

Another interesting departure are these colourful typographic paintings which document the art world, and art itself as a commodity. They brought to mind early Warhol Pop paintings which featured image and type culled from advertising as they record the prices fetched by renowned artists at auction houses in 2007, when the art market had reached saturation point. This series draws attention to the conversations at present about disparities in values between art created by women and people of colour, and white male artists. It is important to note that Marshall has been recognised as one of the most important artists working in America currently, whose stock has risen considerably to rival the prices achieved by more well known artists. As a result one of his paintings (Past Times, 1997), achieved a price of $21 million (a record for a living African-American artist), when snapped up at auction this year by none other than P Diddy.

History of Painting (May 16, 2007), 2018

History of Painting (February 6, 2007), 2018

History of Painting (May 16, 2007), 2018

History of Painting (May 17, 2007), 2018

The biggest surprise were the following two paintings which were a huge shift from his usual figurative style and underpin his current concerns into the investigation of the history of painting. Untitled (Small Colours) below is very reminiscent of Jean Arp's Collage According To The Laws of Chance, and Untitled (Large Colours) references Maurice Denis's definition of paintings as merely flat surfaces covered with lines and colours in a specific order.

Untitled (Small Colours), 2018

Untitled (Large Colours), 2018

Untitled (Dog Walker), 2018

Untitled (Underpainting), 2018

There were further layers of art historical reference in Untitled (Underpainting), above in Marshall's use of burnt umber paint similar to the practice of Renaissance masters, the salon-style settingof the painting, and of course the art instruction being recieved by the children in the gallery. In David Zwirner gallery itself, it was a real pleasure to see and meet the artist Marshall himself (below), as he discussed his work.    

Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting
until 10th November
David Zwirner
24 Grafton Street