Arts & Culture

Kerry James Marshall On Venturing Into A New Style Of Painting In Exhibition “Exquisite Corpse: This Is Not the Game”


Kerry James Marshall has made a name for himself with his distinctive painting style, gaining worldwide acclaim for his portrayals of figures with actual black skin. However, in his recent exhibition titled “Exquisite Corpse: This Is Not the Game” at New York’s Jack Shainman gallery, Marshall surprised audiences by deviating from his familiar technique and embracing the exquisite corpse method, which is when a collection of words or images are collectively assembled in often a surrealistic way. 

As a painter, Marshall aimed to normalize the presence of Black figures in museums, going beyond the notion of their exceptional rarity. He successfully achieved this objective, prompting a shift in the discourse surrounding his work, moving beyond representation alone.

While it is uncommon for an artist to diverge so drastically from the techniques that have brought them critical acclaim and success, a closer examination of Marshall’s new approach reveals underlying similarities. Despite the dominance of figures in his artwork, they possess an enigmatic quality intentionally designed to resist easy interpretation. Art in America interviewed Marshall to delve deeper into his artistic process and gain insights into his recent artistic pivot.

Marshall didn’t include a press release for the exhibition because he wanted viewers to truly see and interpret the work from their own perspective instead of relying on a description of what the art is about. He does explain, however, the process of creating his exquisite corpses. 

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“Each exquisite corpse has four segments, and each segment has a different version of my signature. They all represent me at different stages of my development,” he said to A.i.A. “There are Black figures that look a lot like the images I do all the time, but there’s also some cross-hatching—I don’t use that technique much now, but I used to.

With each piece, I started with a head, then created a body. Together, those segments constitute relationships and meanings. I’ve described myself as a history painter, and that’s relevant here too. I’m looking at history and trying to draw out connections that people don’t automatically make.”

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Marshall also discussed the pressure that he has felt to continue making art in the style that brought him fame and commercial success.  

“There’s nobody who goes to art school who doesn’t mean to come out of there and be a professional. No matter what they say, all the things we do are aimed at a certain kind of mission. Part of that mission is to achieve recognition, and to establish the kind of singularity that sets your work apart from everybody else’s—and, in doing that, to try and produce something that might be meaningful,” he said. 

Still, he emphasized that artists can’t be worried about other people’s reaction to the art that they produce. “For me, I’m just doing what I think needs to be done. I do the pictures I want to. I always have. If they have an impact on people, that’s fine.” 

Check out “Exquisite Corpse: This Is Not the Game” at Jack Shainman Gallery. Read the full interview with Marshall on Art in America.

Ayanna Nicole

Hi! I’m Ayanna, a writer and artist. Although I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with two degrees in art and psychology, I’ve had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. By following my dreams and utilizing my creativity, I designed Jaro Magazine with the ultimate intention of bringing more positive stories in the black community to the forefront, while also highlighting our versatile and vibrant culture through Jaro’s four modes: film, books, art, and music. I also manage a book hub, which you can find on Instagram @bloomingliterature.

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