Kerry James Marshall’s Prints Throw Blackness Into Relief

“I am not one who goes in much for magical thinking,” the painter Kerry James Marshall wrote in 2018. “Material reality has spirit enough for me.” From the first scrapbook his kindergarten teacher showed him to his career blurring the lines between large-scale painting, lithography, photography and sculpture, KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: The Complete Prints: 1976-2022 (Ludion/D.A.P., $125) traces a lifelong reverence for the materiality of all visual art.

Depicting a young Girl Scout in uniform, Marshall’s color lithograph “Brownie” (1995) evolved from a series of paintings portraying Black children “doing regular kid stuff,” Susan Tallman writes.Credit…Kerry James Marshall/Whitney Museum of American Art

“Hailed for having redefined Blackness as a visual device and cultural subject,” as the art historian Susan Tallman writes, Marshall grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and then the Watts and South Central neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1960s, where “inequality and sanctioned violence were facts of Black life.” This was also where he discovered the work of the painter and printmaker Charles White.

The angle of the profile in Kerry James Marshall’s 5-by-4-inch woodcut “Brother” (1976) reveals the influence of Charles White’s 1972 etching “Pope X,” in which the figure’s tall hat and long beard create a sharp diagonal across the frame.Credit…Kerry James Marshall
Part of a series honoring the civil rights and Black Power movements, the lithograph “Memento” (1997) serves as a “more intimate précis” for Marshall’s 10-foot painting “Souvenir II.” The pink and blue angels at the top commemorate Black victims of white supremacy, from Medgar Evers to children killed in the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham.Credit…Kerry James Marshall/San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Entering White’s studio at the Otis Art Institute in his teens, Marshall saw finished paintings alongside works in progress. Witnessing the reality of the creative process, he realized “that artists were not wizards,” he later wrote; “that the work they do can seem magical but in reality is achieved through knowledge.”

“Siren” (1992), a woodcut over oil paint, was one of a series in which Marshall used maritime and mythological tropes to explore the history and emotion of the Atlantic slave trade.Credit…Kerry James Marshall
“Untitled” (1984-7). Inverting the typical method of applying color over a printed image, Marshall experimented in the 1980s with overlaying woodcut prints on top of oil paint.Credit…Kerry James Marshal/Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Credit…Kerry James Marshall, via Valerie Nielsen Mendez
“Blues” (1982), a linocut with hand-cut typography made in tribute to Marshall’s beloved Mississippi Delta blues.Credit…Kerry James Marshall
Part of Marshall’s “African Powers” series, “Ogun” (1988-9) was named for the Yoruba deity of war and metal.Credit…Kerry James Marshall
In a poster for the 1981 South Central Los Angeles Folklife Festival, organized by his friend Beverly Robinson, Marshall depicted a woman stitching a quilt of multicultural folk arts. Credit…Kerry James Marshall

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