Object of the Month

Title: Brownie
Artist: Kerry James Marshall (born 1955)
Nationality: American
Date: 1995
Medium: Lithograph
Credit: 1996.5

Kerry James Marshall has spent his artistic career exploring African-American identity. Having spent his childhood in both Civil Rights-era Birmingham and South Central Los Angeles, Marshall witnessed the exclusion of the black narrative from larger public discourse. He has responded artistically by painting and printing images of African Americans that take black hues to their darkest shades. Working in a palette of blacks, browns, greys, and whites, the artist creates works that force the viewer to question accepted conceptions of strength, intellect, and beauty.

A lithograph from 1995, Brownie is a clear example of this unique path towards manifesting splendor in literal blackness. Reminiscent of Marshall’s Lost Boys series (1992–93), in which the artist painted portraits of urban black adolescents, Brownie engages with the image of a single figure. Despite the nearness of the subject, the young girl’s gaze is distant and disconnected from the viewer. This incongruence is part and parcel with Marshall’s intent, an artistic element that can be traced throughout Brownie. From the utilization of the same shade of black for both the figure and the background, to the overt labeling of the subject as “Brownie,” the entire composition can be construed as jarring. However, the facial features of the girl in this work are anything but startling, as they project a sense of ease and strength of character that seem to be venerated by Marshall, as noted by the presence of the zigzag halo that circumscribes the subject’s head.

—Isaac Alpert (Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 2014)

This work will be on display in the Block Museum's Main Gallery during the exhibition Art on Paper: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs from the Block Museum, May 11 to August 26.

You can make an appointment to see this work and others from the Block Museum's permanent collection. Email printroom@northwestern.edu or see Visit the Study Center for more information.