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Figuring History with Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas

  • Mickalene Thomas - Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet, 2012
  • Robert Colescott - Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, 1986
  • Kerry-James-Marshall-School-of-Beauty-School-of-Culture-20122
  • Mickalene Thomas - Resist, 2017
  • Robert Colescott - Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, 1986
February 12, 2018
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via this email: andreja.velimirovic@widewalls.ch

During the next few months, the Seattle Art Museum will be hosting an intriguing show of three leading American artists from three different generations of painters.

Featuring works by Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas, this exhibition may be presenting artists from different periods in time, but all three of them used their paintings to challenge Western tradition and its constant misrepresentation of people of color.

While each of the selected painters is distinctive in style, subject matter and the historic moments they reference, they are still able to collectively critique and redefine mainstream narratives of history and representation much more effectively as a trio than individually.

Robert Colescott - George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware, Page from an American History Textbook, 1975; Les Demoiselles d’Alabama Vestidas, 1985
Left: Robert Colescott – George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware, Page from an American History Textbook, 1975. Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 108 in. Private collection, Saint Louis, © 2017 Estate of Robert Colescott / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo by Jean Paul Torno / Right: Robert Colescott – Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, 1985. Acrylic on canvas, 96 x 92 in. Seattle Art Museum, General Acquisition Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, and Patricia Denny Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.12, © 2017 Estate of Robert Colescott / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo by Mark Woods

Figuring History

Varying in techniques and styles, the artworks of Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas basically share the same conceptual core – they focus on material and cultural histories centered on the black man’s experiences and perspectives.

The upcoming exhibition will present 25 large-scale paintings, all on loan from leading institutions and collections across the United States. Among these paintings, the definite highlight will be Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas (1985), a Robert Colescott piece recently acquired and added to the SAM collection.

We should also mention that Mickalene Thomas created three paintings specifically for this exhibition, and has also prepared a staged “living room” installation, an artwork that will enable the visitors a great deal of interaction.

Out of the three participating artists, Robert Colescott is the only one that’s no longer with us, but Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas will be making an appearance at a free opening celebration of the exhibition and will be available for conversations.

Kerry James Marshall - Souvenir I, 1997
Kerry James Marshall – Souvenir I, 1997. Acrylic, collage, and glitter on unstretched canvas, 108 x 157 in. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund, 1997.73, © MCA Chicago, photo by Joe Ziolkowski

Artists in the Show

Robert H. Colescott was an American painter best known for satirical genre and crowd subjects rendered in a very stylized fashion. He often conveyed exuberant, comical or bitter reflections on being African-American. Showing great ability both technically and conceptually, Colescott’s garishly powerful canvases lampooned racial and sexual stereotypes with rakish imagery.

Kerry James Marshall WideWalls’ artist of the year for 2017, specializes in challenging the marginalization of African-Americans through his formally rigorous paintings, drawings, videos and installations. His central protagonists are always black, or, as the artist himself likes to explain, “unequivocally, emphatically black.” All of Marshall’s works are rooted in his life experiences.

Mickalene Thomas uses her texturally rich paintings to investigate the widespread characterization of black female identity, celebrity and sexuality. A master of acrylic, rhinestones and enamel, this painter is heavily influenced by her childhood experiences from the 1970s. Thomas opts to depict powerful women such as her mother, celebrities and iconic art-historical figures, often re-staging famous scenes and substituting figures with provocatively dressed black women.

Mickalene Thomas - Portrait of Maya #10, 2017, Racquel Come to Me, 2017
Left: Mickalene Thomas – Portrait of Maya #10, 2017. Rhinestones and acrylic paint on canvas mounted wood panel, 96 x 84 in. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris – Brussels, © Mickalene Thomas / Right: Mickalene Thomas – Racquel: Come to Me, 2017. Rhinestones, acrylic, oil, glitter, and oil stick on wood panel, 108 x 84 x 2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas

Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas Art Exhibition at Seattle Art Museum

The upcoming show will certainly be a must for anyone lucky enough to find themselves in Seattle during the next few months. It will present us with three generations of contemporary African-American artists whose artworks offer a bold perspective on black culture and representation.

Figuring History, an exhibition of paintings by Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas, will be held between the 15th of February and the 13th of May 2018 at Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Washington.

Featured images: Mickalene Thomas – Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet, 2012. Rhinestones, acrylic, oil, and enamel on wood panel, 108 x 144 x 2 in. Sydney & Walda Besthoff, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas; Robert Colescott – Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, 1986. Acrylic on canvas, 90 x 114 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1987.166, © 2017 Estate of Robert Colescott / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Art Resource, NY; Kerry James Marshall – School of Beauty, School of Culture, 2012. Acrylic and glitter on unstretched canvas, 108 x 158 in. Birmingham Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith, the Collectors Circle for Contemporary Art, Jane Comer, the Sankofa Society, and general acquisition funds, 2012.57, © Kerry James Marshall; Mickalene Thomas – Resist, 2017. Rhinestones, acrylic, gold leaf, and oil stick on canvas mounted on wood panel, 84 x 108 x 2 in., © Mickalene Thomas; Robert Colescott – Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, 1986. Acrylic on canvas, 90 x 114 in., Albritton Collection, Dallas, Texas, © 2017 Estate of Robert Colescott / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo by Fernando Rojas. All images courtesy of Seattle Art Museum.