A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

April 21, 2017
On view March 12 – July 3, 2017 | The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (http://www.moca.org)

In his total of 80 paintings on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Kerry James Marshall documents the history of black life in America and brings to our attention the very known fact that black is truly beautiful, in physical body as well as in spirit and soul. The colors in Marshall’s paintings are colors of Africa, which I absolutely love, having lived in Africa myself for over seven years. These colors once again remind me of the extremely bright, joyful, and fearless colors of Africa. The artist has effectively borrowed these colors for portrayal of his landscapes, portraits, and everyday domestic life occurrences, painted so cheerfully and masterfully on his canvases. His colors and brush strokes remind me of the great rhythm in dance and music, which only the people in Africa can master and carry, and by which touch us all. The magic of the music of Africa, which belongs to her people only and which no one can copy or imitate, comes from somewhere deep in her people’s souls, as does the magic of Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry.

In every painting by the artist, there is a soulful story worth telling — a story that is captivating and engaging. It is mostly the details Marshall uses on his canvasses to tell those stories, which amuse and bring a smile to the viewer’s lips, as well as bring a certain joy to the heart of the viewer. It is the beauty of the colors which transfers a sense of positive energy to the whole room. It is the very extreme contrast between the solid colors and the color of his subjects which results in creating an element of shock and makes every one of them a winner in our hearts.

I have an empty, vacant hole in my heart, an emotional condition, which can only be filled with art. This is a reality I live and deal with. When I was walking out of the doors of the MOCA, having just finished viewing the work of Kerry James Marshall, I knew very well that the hole in my heart had been filled with my loving his art entirely and madly. Like a lover who cannot be apart from her love, I had a hard time leaving the beloved paintings on the wall and exiting the room. I walked out of the exhibition and out of the museum just to find myself back to the exhibition room again after a short while, with this feeling that I needed a second viewing of his art all over again. This time, I said to myself, “I should only focus on all the little details that I might have missed the first time around. This time, I should focus on all the hidden shades and the hidden colors.” Walking around, examining and swallowing all the beauty on his canvasses with my eyes, I kept murmuring to myself, “Oh, look at them. So simple and unpretentious, so effortlessly uncomplicated but yet, so electrifying and magnificent each piece of his work is.”

Finally, leaving the exhibition room, I felt as though Kerry James Marshall, through his paintings, had fed my eyes and my soul. It was as though I had entered his exhibition room emotionally with an empty stomach but had left like I had been fed a very satisfying emotional meal. The artist had told me all his secrets and all the stories hidden deep in his heart through his imagery, and I had managed to connect with him directly and completely.

I cannot dissect, analyze, or describe every little tiny detail of his paintings for you — I can only say that they are effectively soul touching. They are simple yet powerful. I can say that I am totally in love with Kerry James Marshall’s paintings. Now, I invite you to go and see the exhibition and judge for yourself.



Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955, Birmingham, Alabama) grew up in Watts, Los Angeles, and is a 1978 graduate of the Otis College of Art and Design. After being an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1986, he moved to Chicago, where he continues to live and work today. Marshall is the recipient of several awards, grants, and fellowships including the MacArthur genius grant in 1997 and an honorary doctorate from Otis College of Art and Design in 1999. In 2013 he was named to President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Marshall has exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally. Kerry James Marshall: In the Tower was most recently on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2013). Other recent solo exhibitions include Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, organized by the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Antwerp, Belgium, traveling to the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Denmark; the Antoni Tapies Foundation, Barcelona; and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2014); and exhibitions at Secession, Vienna (2012); the Wexner Center for the Arts (2008); Camden Arts Centre (2005); MCA Chicago (2003); and the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1998).

Marshall has completed murals and public projects in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, and has work in dozens of 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, D.C.; 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.

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry is organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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