Kerry James Marshall on his process

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry is his first major retrospective in the United States, and includes nearly 80 paintings, all of which contain images of Black subjects going about their daily business, presented with utter equality and humanity. A deeply accomplished artist, who makes ravishing paintings, Marshall’s strategy was three fold. First, as a young artist he decided to paint only black figures. He was unequivocal in his pursuit of black beauty. His figures are an unapologetic ebony black, and they occupy the paintings with a sense of authority and belonging. Second, Marshall worked to make a wide variety of images populated with black people. This led him to make exquisite portraits, lush landscape paintings, everyday domestic interiors, and paintings that depict historical events, all featuring black subjects as if their activities were completely and utterly normal. Third, Marshall concentrated on painterly mastery as a fundamental strategy. By mastering the art of representational and figurative painting, during a period when neither was in vogue, Marshall produced a body of work that bestows beauty and dignity where it had long been denied.

In his studio in Chicago, Marshall discusses his career, his strategies to circumvent institutional inequality, and his mission to diversify the cultural representations that are prioritized and historicized by the museum and art history canon.

Cite this page as: The Museum of Contemporary Art, "Kerry James Marshall on his process," in Smarthistory, August 27, 2021, accessed May 24, 2024,