Kerry James Marshall: Portrait Black

Kerry James Marshall describes the seven shades of black he uses to paint his nuanced figures.

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In his Chicago studio, Kerry James Marshall shows us the seven customized shades of black he uses to paint his nuanced figures.


This is the full range of the black flesh tones.

There’s seven.

  • Every one of these tones is on
  • those – the later figures.
  • Every one of these colors is on there.

  • And so this is the pure carbon black,
  • straight out of the jar.

  • This is that carbon black
  • with cobalt blue in it.

  • Looking at them side by side you can’t tell.
  • But if you put this on top of that you can tell.

  • This is the pure Mars black,
  • which is an iron oxide black.
  • You almost can’t tell the difference between them
  • just by looking at them.

  • But if I put this on top of that,
  • it automatically becomes red.

  • The red in it shows up
  • when you put it on top,
  • of the pure carbon.

  • And so this is the Mars black
  • with some yellow ochre in it.
  • But I mean they all look the same.

  • But when you stack them on top of each other
  • then the – the variations
  • start to become more pronounced.