Kerry James Marshall confronts you with giant, sign-like paintings whose unique and vast vocabulary demands that you either make up some stories about what is going on, or you let the images, text, patterns and techniques wash over you like dense poetry.
The paintings I liked the best were the ones that took a familiar scenario, like a dad and kid at an arcade or a campfire, and using all the tools of painting (text, abstraction, technique, realism, symbolism, etc etc) destabilized the familiar scenario and charged the scene with foreboding and mystery. I couldn’t help but make up stories and points of views for the people and things I was seeing painted.
Art Snobs will hate this, but the paintings here reminded me of artwork I used to see at the Luz De Jesus Gallery in the early aughts. I remember being struck by the large sign-like paintings tacked to the walls on grommets by the Clayton Brothers. The paintings gave me the similar feeling of being awash in text, patterns and images that seemed to be referencing some other stuff that I didn’t know about either. For the Clayton Brothers it felt like some old school tattoo, hobo, Americana, rural sign painting vibe.
Later I went on to take classes with the Clayton Brothers and get to know them a little bit. The immediacy of seeing the art and then being able to take classes with the artists was inspiring. I guess what I am trying to say is, if Kerry James Marshall or someone he knows reads this please let me know if you are planning to teach again and if so where do I sign up?