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Elson Lecture 2012: Kerry James Marshall: The Importance of Being Figurative

Kerry James Marshall, artist. Kerry James Marshall is a master of the human figure. His imposing, radiant paintings and installations draw equally upon African American history and the history of Western art. Born in 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved with his family to the town of Watts in 1963, shortly before the race riots began. At Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles he studied with social realist painter Charles White. Marshall's mature career can be dated to 1980, when, inspired by Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, he developed his signature motif of a dark, near-silhouetted figure. This figure of "extreme blackness," as he puts it, has been important for younger artists including Glenn Ligon and Kara Walker. In honor of the Gallery's acquisition of its first painting, Great America (1994), by the artist last year, Marshall presented the 19th annual Elson Lecture, titled The Importance of Being Figurative, on March 22, 2012.