Jack Balas, 2019; KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, BLACK ROMANTIC; (#1705) (Muse/Museum series); watercolor, acrylic and ink on paper, 22" X 30"

Statement about this painting:

I have long enjoyed Kerry James Marshall's paintings, both his technique and his intent to populate the art world -as well as art history- with images of black figures, which he has long felt have been ignored or erased for a variety of (chiefly racist) reasons, both in this country and throughout the western art world. In both these concerns he has been a favorite of mine, especially in the second regard, since much of my own work has been prompted by similar feelings of exclusion or prejudice when it comes to imagery of contemporary males. I had asked myself for a few years, though, how to include him in this series, when I remember reading that he had vowed to never paint a white person, at the same time that the world he paints can often be chiefly circumscribed or defined by white culture.

Perhaps for someone looking at this painting the idea of blackface can cross the mind, that form of theatrical make-up used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person. But I would reply that that is a very superficial reading, and that there is a huge difference of intent-- one of ridicule versus one of homage.

One can wonder, in other circumstances, what was the intent in the 2017 Whitney Biennial when artist Dana Schutz painted "Open Casket," a rendition of a news photograph of a torn, battered and murdered Emmett Till. But one can also ask, legitimately, who owns history, and who gets to tell the tale? Are Jews the only people allowed to talk of the Holocaust? Can only Native Americans talk of the decimation of cultures at the hand of European and American militaries and settlers?.

For the 1993 Whitney Biennial, artist Daniel J. Martinez distributed very controversial admission buttons that read, "I can't imagine ever wanting to be white." For my painting here, KERRY JAMES MARSHALL BLACK ROMANTIC, I like to think that the two weight-lifters painting themselves may very well be thinking: "We want to be black."

Jack Balas