Monday, January 02, 2017

Kerry James Marshall's Mastry at Met Breuer

Since the 1993 Whitney Biennial when Kerry James Marshall showed large paintings on unstretched tarps of American families in the projects, I've adored his work. I didn't fully understand the reasons why until viewing the comprehensive retrospective Mastry. The exhibition infuses me with the pure state of inspiration that comes from well-honed visual thinking, a transmission of power from hand to eye that surges through the works in the show and sends the artist back to the studio post-haste.

Crowds admiring the unstretched tarp paintings from the mid-1990s at Mastry.
Exhibition Link

From 2014, some vignettes. Delightfully, Marshall entertains an adolescent girl as one of his personae,
given his penchant for pink hearts and glittery signatures. Or that's my reading, anyway.
Vignette up close: flowers with glitter stamens, a vision close to my heart.

These paintings make me feel understood - and I understand them - generational motifs, perhaps, is part of that. But also a privileging of sentiment, overt beauty in imagery perceived in high art as suspect, less than or Other for its decorative rather than structural content. Like much else this is a construct, as we know that flowers can be structural, but in the Modernist  grid of New York, the bias remains in visual terms.
Graffiti, musical notes, composition from increasing dissonant elements, much like the world, and KJM puts it together. 

Working the full palette of painting history not to mention pop culture.

Infused with a healthy graphic sense, bird, flowers and glitter! From 2014.

Large detail of a figure within interior. Beautiful veins of neutrals coursing through deep tones. 

Here from a larger work, patterns and volumes are slabs, marks and daubs that form bodies in space.

Anamorphic perspective, as in Holbein's Ambassadors (1533). Wikipedia_Holbein's Ambassadors. Not the skull of death as that painting, but a cultural whitewash, which the baby ditched his rattle for to investigate.

Color: the subtle tones of skin and in this instance, surrounded by a bright, loud landscape.
The whole vignette, parts of which were shown above. Circling back.

Japanese prints selected by Marshall from the Met's collection as inspirational sources for his own work. As an aside, he also chose Matisse. What is not to love!

The storytelling impulse, the sharp transitions from volume to flat space, the color...

...gory and graphic, somehow pleasingly arranged

A small, Roland Flexner-scale Gerhard Richter, never seen before

And Ingres' Odalisque in Grisaille, 1824-34. These do provide insight into his oeuvre.
KJM: earlier work, 1990s

Multiple painting modalities in Renaissance heads and a rawly painted blanket

A love painting
KJM often paints on paper assembled together as if identity were constructed - also playing against the elegance of his drawing in this self portrait.

More portraits 

A great barbershop painting that greets you on the third floor

The detail is meticulous, observance sharp

Spaces within space

Color and shape composing rhythm

Paper flooring on the backbeat, spats up front

Stars and protagonist - the way sound looks, the way dressing up feels

Young driver, boyhood reverie 
The seminal 1993 works showing the bucolic child's world of Nickerson Gardens
How I loved these in that year's Biennial: clean script, smeary flowers, geometric homes  securely drawn
Kids at play in the world. Motifs arise and repeat, like pink thongs.
The open-ended landscape of childhood...
Welcome, welcome~ 
And yet synthetic landscape, making no bones about its over construction as a painting

That feels quite real, like the jump in sequences in film
Marshall's paintings celebrate innocence and its visual construction, without cynicism
They don't pretend something doesn't exist, but include everything.
Jumps in sequence, as when Mary Poppins jumps through the sidewalk with Dick Van Dyke in the '60s film, hearken to innocence/no innocence in that the world is real, both sweet and bitter

I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of children recited this daily in the 1960s
In this recent (2016) painting, a life model gives a Black power salute
In the opulent make-believe world of the studio
A larger studio, inspired by Marshall's first mentor, Charles White, in LA
Paintings within paintings ! and systems of logic fall together seamlessly

I could get lost in that floor, in those toes, and the light stands.
Rorschach paintings - handsome, yet missing the precision of the drawing

Something I saw for the first time in Mastry: Chicago influence - a la Ed Paschke in this neon backdrop. Marshall lives in Chicago, but I had never identified the Imagist influence in his work before.
This beautiful palette shares a precision and tonality with Jim Nutt's portraits. 
Close view of Frankenstein and Mrs. Frankenstein - the flip side to KJM's childhood paintings.

A series of portraits with strong Japanese influence:

 really portraits of ow a painting is made, layer by layer, color by color side by side...assembled, built, constructed and realized.
How sometimes it can feel like paint by numbers, while other times it's magic improvisation.

A room of pure kitsch paintings - here, one response to Fischl's boat linked here: Fischl boat painting link or , more like, Winslow Homer's Gulf Stream: Homer Link

And another mural-sized painting of Chicago's South Side, in full below. Here, a detail showing prisms caused in camera.

The whole painting almost
Glitter, texture, pattern - at this point, I was in a swoon ~

Emerging from the black and white world. The glitter, the outre design elements, flowers, bodies - adolescent castaway identity - belongs to men and women. But I don't forget the women.

Pattern, image, text, space within space

In The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes, "Now a guarantee of happiness--that's a great deal. But a guarantee to be allowed to pursue the jackpot of happiness? Merely an opportunity to buy a lottery ticket. Someone would surely win millions, but millions would surely pay for it." 
Annunciation from the Past to the Future
Mastry is funny and Mastery achieved. Congratulations to Kerry James Marshall for one of the best museum shows ever. It's sublime - and pointed, too.

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