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Kerry James Marshall
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Figurative painter, printmaker and installation artist Kerry James Marshall draws on his study of the works of European Old Masters to create stylized, allegorical works about African-American life. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955, Marshall’s father worked in the kitchen of the local Veterans’ Administration hospital; his mother was a homemaker. He attended a Catholic grammar school in Birmingham until 1963 when Marshall, his mother and two siblings followed his father to Los Angeles, who had found work at the Los Angeles VA hospital. The Marshall family initially lived in the Nickerson Gardens public housing project in Watts, and in 1964 moved north to a house in the South Central district. Marshall was interested in art from an early age. As a child he watched art instruction programs on television, including “John Nagy’s Learn to Draw” and Will Alexander’s “The Magic of Oil Painting.” The Carver Junior High school he attended had an art department, and after taking an “Art Production” class in seventh grade, the instructor nominated him for a summer drawing class conducted by George De Groat (1917-1995) at the Otis Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design) in Los Angeles. Marshall continued to study art at Jefferson High School, and at age 16 began taking Saturday painting classes at Otis under San Clayberger (b. 1926). Marshall won a scholarship to attend the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles but decided he wanted to attend Otis instead. Since Otis required two years of college credits to enter its B.F.A program, Marshall worked for two years then enrolled in the Los Angeles City College to get the needed credits. He also took evening and Saturday classes for college credit from Clayberger and Charles White (1918-1979) at Otis. He entered Otis in January 1977, where he studied drawing, painting, printmaking, collage, and ceramics, and became student body president. After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1978, Marshall worked in construction, did house painting, was an elementary school teacher’s aide, and worked as an exhibition preparator for the Jan Baum Gallery in Los Angeles, while painting and making collages. His first gallery group show was “Newcomers, 1979” at the Barnsdall Art Park in Los Angeles, followed by group shows at the Jan Baum Gallery and Mount St. Mary’s College in 1980. He began teaching at the Los Angeles City College in 1980 (through 1983) and was on the adjunct faculty of the Los Angeles Southwest College from 1982 to 1985, where he had a solo show in 1981. The James Turcotte Gallery mounted a solo exhibition of his work in 1983, followed by another solo show at Pepperdine University, Malibu, the following year. That show piqued the interest of gallerist Marty Koplin, who gave Marshall a solo show in 1985, from which his painting “Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self” (1980, private collection) was sold. Marshall was awarded an artist-in-residence fellowship at the Studio Museum in Harlem for 1985, and moved to New York City. There he met the actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce, who was working in public relations at the Museum. He went with her when she returned to Chicago in 1987; they later married. Marshall began to receive recognition in the form of fellowship grants from the Art Matters Foundation (New York City) in 1990, the National Endowment for the Arts (1991), the Illinois Arts Council (1992) and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation (1993). In 1993 the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City began representing Marshall with a solo exhibition, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art purchased his painting “De Style,” the first of Marshall’s works to enter a museum collection and he began teaching at the School of Art and Design of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was first an adjunct professor, became a full professor in 1998 and taught there until 2006. The Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art mounted a solo exhibition of his work in 1994, which traveled to four other American locations. In 1997 Marshall was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. The Otis Art Institute awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in 1999. Marshall exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1997 Biennial, twice in Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1997 and 2007) and twice in the Venice Biennale (2003 and 2015). Major solo exhibitions were organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2003) and the Camden Arts Centre, London (2005). An accomplished printmaker, Marshall explored etching in 2010 at the Paulson Bott Press in Berkeley, creating five etchings, some with aquatint. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Design in 2011. A large retrospective exhibition of his work, “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” opened at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in 2016 and moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Breuer in New York City and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Marshall lives and works in Chicago. (TNB 7/2017) Selected bibliography: Molesworth, Helen Anne, ed. Kerry James Marshall: Mastry. Exhibition catalog. Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications, 2016.