Artist Dossier: Kerry James Marshall

Artist Dossier: Kerry James Marshall

Leading contemporary African American artist Kerry James Marshall was born in 1955, in Birmingham, Alabama and raised in Los Angeles, California. He is well known for his visually striking and skilfully executed acrylic paintings that explore ideas and concepts around the modern African American experience. Marshall’s time between Alabama and California greatly influenced the development of a personal style –the central focus of his work being the promotion of Black people and culture, drawing attention to the historical absence of Black figures in historical narratives of modern art.

Marshall relocated with his family to Chicago, Illinois, in 1987, and within a few short years garnered national acclaim. One of his first significant career achievements was receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that provided him an opportunity to pursue his art on a full-time basis. He subsequently received a MacArthur Foundation Grant in 1997 and earned a BFA from the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1998. The next year, he was awarded an honourary doctorate by the institute.


On May 16, 2018, Marshall’s large scale grand painting titled Past Times, 1997, sold for $18.5 million ($21.1 million, including fees) at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, making him the most expensive living African American artist. Originally estimated at $8 million–$12 million, the painting sold for four times Marshall’s previous record of $5,037,500 (including fees) achieved for his portrait of Harriet Tubman at Christie’s New York in November 2017. A few days after the auction, entrepreneur, Grammy Award-winning record producer and artiste, Sean Combs was revealed as the buyer. Inspired by European masters such as Georges Seurat, Past Times depicts a leisurely Sunday afternoon. It imagines an African American experience in the park, featuring Black figures engaged in golf, croquet, water-skiing and boating.

Still Life with Wedding Portrait, 2015, 151.1 x 120.6 cm. Photo credit: Christie’s

Other previously high grossing works by Marshall include Still Life with Wedding Portrait (2015) sold for $ 4,014,138 at Christie’s in November 2017, Untitled (Blanket Couple) (2014), which achieved $3,468,006 at Phillips in September 2018 and Terra Incognita (1991) sold for $2,311,471 at Phillips in November 2018.

Untitled (Blank Couple), 2014, 152.4 x 244.8 cm. Photo credit: Phillips

Marshall, has achieved numerous accolades in the course of his career including an appointment into President Barack Obama’s committee on the Arts and the Humanities (2013), the Wolfgang Hahn Prize (2014) and the Rosenberger Medal awarded by The University of Chicago for outstanding achievement in the creative and performing arts (2016).

Terra Incognita, 1991, 239.4 x 189.5 cm. Photo credit: Phillips

He has also featured in numerous national and international exhibitions, including the Whitney Biennial, Documenta, and the Venice Biennale. His work is held in museum collections such as; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Oyindamola Olaniyan is the Head of Media and Communications at Revilo Publishing. She holds a B.sc in Botany from Lagos State University. Broadly experienced in this area, her core expertise includes social media management, content development and brand identity.

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