“Everything seems, to me, crystal clear,” said
, addressing a crowd at the preview of his latest exhibition, at David Zwirner
in London. “There are no mysteries in the work I do. Everything is there. Everything is available….It’s all straightforward.”
That’s a typical understatement for an artist who is often and correctly lauded as one of our greatest living painters. And straightforward or not, the works on view here (all from 2018; all but one being shown for the first time) have a steady magic. They’re the sort of pictures that elicit that rare thing—earnest and sincere admiration of both his range of feeling and his technical chops. Marshall juggles his endearing humbleness with a well-deserved braggadocio. It’s something of a cliché for painters to present themselves as wrestling with the thousands upon thousands of years of art history that came before them, but in this case, it’s actually true. (The show’s swagger is summed up in its title: “Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting.”)
Most people know Marshall primarily as a figurative painter, a celebratory yet complicated chronicler of black life. Works in that vein are here: Untitled (Landscape) features a lone, camouflage-wearing figure, gazing at trees and a lake; Untitled (Dog Walker) depicts a woman and her pitbull, the dog’s leash a bright pink line that zips and zags across the composition. Untitled (Underpainting) presents a crowded museum. Groups of young black children sit on the floor, watching a docent explicate two unseen paintings—by Kerry James Marshall, according to wall labels that are collaged onto the actual surface of the work.