Kerry James Marshall Untitled (Blot) 2015

“A handful of large paintings, representations of Rorscharch test–like inkblots that look at first blush like pure abstraction, were an even more dramatic shift for the three curators to reckon with. “I’m doing blots in part to confuse the idea of abstraction,” Marshall told me. “A blot is not an abstraction, really, because we know what it is. It’s a blot. And a blot is a particular kind of figure.” Marshall placed one at the entrance to the Zwirner show, which he called “Look See.” “I wanted to disrupt expectations immediately,” he explained. “I thought that was a dramatic way of introducing looking and seeing.”” Sarah Douglas on Kerry James Marshall, ArtNews, March 2, 2016.

Kerry James Marshall is mostly known for his wonderful figurative paintings. But when I saw his painting installation at the 2015 Biennale I spent a lot of time with his abstract paintings. I made connections to the Abstract Mannerist paintings of Christopher Wool’s paint blots, Warhol’s Rorschach paintings and David Reed’s use of hyper-activated color and process. They are beautiful in the way that Florentine Mannerism is beautiful – they overstimulate the senses.

“The logic of mirrors, reflections, and optical deceptions is at the heart of Marshall’s practice. His work points toward the major paradox of vision: while we may choose to see or not to see others, we remain somewhat obscure to ourselves and need a counter-presence to throw back at us our more or less distorted reflection. To depict the black figure, Marshall employs and inverts traditions, stereotypes, and expectations established by white culture. The image he constructs becomes another mirror, in which black and white Americans may face themselves and each other.” Kerry James Marshall review by Tatiana Istomina, AIA, March 24, 2017.

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