Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Painter), 2009

Happy Portrait Monday!

Today's portrait is brought to you by Kerry James Marshall, whose gorgeously vivid, allegorical paintings speak about directly issues of race, beauty, and history.

Untitled (Painter) addresses many themes, not least of all being the place of women of colour in the canon of Western painting -- or rather, the non-place of them, or the tokenization of women artists in the grand narrative of art history.

The colour black is symbolic to Marshall: it highlights the complexities of racial representation and perception. Paradoxically, he accomplishes this through consistently portraying his figures, who occupy a great number of roles and places, using the deepest matte blacks of the painted spectrum -- by creating a darkness so vivid that the image becomes centred around it; that all other colours exist in response to its placement. In this way, blackness becomes power. It's a theme that runs throughout Marshall's work, but is most evident in the regal focal figure in Untitled (Painter).

"People ask me why my figures have to be so black," Marshall said in response to a question posed by Tracy Zwick for Art in America. "There are a lot of reasons. First, the blackness is a rhetorical device. When we talk about ourselves as a people and as a culture, we talk about black history, black culture, black music. That's the rhetorical position we occupy. Somebody has to start representing that blackness in the extreme and letting it be beautiful."