With a career spanning almost three decades, Kerry James Marshall is well known for his paintings depicting actual and imagined events from African-American history. His complex and multilayered portrayals of youths, interiors, nudes, housing estate gardens, land- and seascapes synthesize different traditions and genres, while seeking to counter stereotypical representations of black people in society. Marshall also produces drawings in the style of comic books, sculptural installations, photography, and video. As with his paintings, these works accumulate various stylistic influences to address the historiography of black art, while at the same time drawing attention to the fact that they are not inherently partisan because their subjects are black.
Marshall was born in 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama. He studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, earning his B.F.A. in 1978 and an honorary doctorate in 1999.
In 2014, Marshall joined David Zwirner. Kerry James Marshall: Look See, an exhibition of new paintings by the artist, marked his first gallery solo show at David Zwirner in London that same year.
In 2017, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles presented Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, the first major museum survey of the artist’s work, specially focusing on his paintings from the past thirty-five years. The show was first shown at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2016, followed by the Met Breuer in New York.
Marshall has exhibited widely throughout Europe and the United States since the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 2015, he created a large-scale mural specifically for the High Line, marking the artist’s first public commission in New York. Titled Above the Line, the mural was based on a previous composition from his comic strip Rythm Mastr, which belongs to his Dailies series. In 2013, his work was the subject of a major survey entitled Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff. The exhibition was first on view at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen in Antwerp. In 2014, it traveled to the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, and was co-hosted by two venues in Spain, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.
Other prominent institutions which have presented recent solo shows include the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2013); Secession, Vienna (2012); Vancouver Art Gallery (2010); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009); and the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio (2008). Previous traveling solo exhibitions include those organized by the Camden Arts Centre, London (2005), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2003), and The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1998).
Marshall was the 2016 recipient of the Rosenberger Medal given by The University of Chicago for outstanding achievement in the creative and performing arts. In 2014, he received the Wolfgang Hahn Prize, an award given annually by the Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. In 2013, he was one of seven new appointees named to President Barack Obama's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Other prestigious awards include a 1997 grant from the MacArthur Foundation and a 1991 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Museum collections which hold works by the artist include the Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Marshall lives and works in Chicago.