Kerry James Marshall Spent His Life Painting the Black Canon

And you can see most of it in a major survey opening tomorrow at the Met Breuer.

by Robin Cembalest

Kerry James Marshall’s artwork “Untitled (Studio)”

Starting with his early-1980s portraits of the “Invisible Man,” Kerry James ­Marshall has never wavered from painting jet-black figures, or from using his art to bring hidden stories center stage. His majestic, tender chronicles of the African-American experience have made the 60-year-old Alabama-born artist an art world elder statesman. Now he’s the subject of a major survey at the Met Breuer (October 25 through January 29, 2017). Spanning the artist’s 35-year career, “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” reveals how he methodically channeled canonical works of Western art to paint an alternative history set in slave ships, housing projects, and barber shops. For Marshall, showing at the Met, alongside its global collections, fulfills a lifetime dream. “I always imagined myself being in there, amid others I admire,” he says. Next up on his agenda: turning Rythm Mastr, his fantastical epic comic book of the black experience, into an animated film.

A Retrospective of Kerry James Marshall’s Paintings of Black History

Kerry James Marshall’s “Untitled (Studio),” 2014.

Kerry James Marshall/The Metropolitan Museum of Art Purchase, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation Gift, Acquisitions Fund and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Multicultural Audience Development Initiative Gift, 2015

Kerry James Marshall’s “De Style,” 1993.

Kerry James Marshall/Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Kerry James Marshall’s “Many Mansions,” 1994.

Kerry James Marshall/The Art Institute of Chicago, Max V. Kohnstamm Fund, 1995.147

Kerry James Marshall’s “Untitled,” 2009.

Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Kerry James Marshall’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self,” 1980.

© Kerry James Marshall. Photo: Matthew Fried, © MCA Chicago.

Kerry James Marshall’s “Voyager,” 1992.

© Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall’s “Many Mansions,” 1994.

© Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall’s “Vignette,” 2003.

© Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall’s “Untitled,” 2008.

© Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall’s “School of Beauty, School of Culture,” 2012

© Kerry James Marshall. Photo: Sean Pathasema

Kerry James Marshall’s “Untitled (Vignette),” 2012.

© Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall’s “Portrait of Nat Turner with the Head of his Master,” 2011.

© Kerry James Marshall. Photo: Bruce White.