My Colors Aren’t Available on Your Palette: Responding to Kerry James Marshall

Rosie May

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Painter), 2009. Acrylic on PVC; 44 5/8 x 43 1/8 x 3 7/8 in. (113.4 x 109.5 x 9.8 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Katherine S. Schamberg by exchange, 2009.15. © 2009 Kerry James Marshall

Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

on our engagement project

How do you connect with a work of art? Do you find yourself drawn to beauty, artistic skill, the story behind the work?

As we prepare for the exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, we want to find out how you approach art by inviting you to respond to one of Marshall’s paintings. On the second floor, we’ve installed the work of art shown above, along with a few prompts, including: “Tell this woman’s story in ten words or less.” and “If you could ask the artist anything, what would you want to know?”

In the four months that this installation has been on display, we’ve collected hundreds of cards with compelling questions and comments. These responses have informed the labels we’ve written for the exhibition and our thinking behind an engagement space for the fourth-floor lobby. Here are a few examples of the thoughtful responses we’ve received:


Tell this woman’s story in ten words or less

"These paints and lines cannot contain all that I am"

"My colors aren't available on your palette"

"She is more complex and powerful than your perception allows"

"Bound yet unbridled, she colors her world in controlled chaos"

"They put me into boxes. I will flourish"

"I don't fit into history as you would like me to"

"After millennia being defined by others, she paints her identity"

"She wants to be seen and so she paints herself"


If you could ask the artist anything, what would you want to know?

"What do you think the subject is thinking of as she looks at the viewer? What does she see?"

"I love this . . . the fact that your face isn't drawn in yet. What will you draw? Yourself or what the world wants you to be?"

"Why does The Painter's paint-by-numbers image differ from her actual appearance?"

"What does it mean to do a paint-by-number self-portrait? The portrait has already been done—we are painting ourselves through another's eyes, limited by how we are seen by others"

"How does this image break racial barriers? What was your initial though using a woman in this painting?"

"Who are the figures/people you choose to paint? Are you inspired by them as individuals?"

"What is a black art history? What does it mean to use black as a qualifier of a discipline?"

on visiting the installation

If you haven’t stopped by see Untitled and leave your thoughts, there is still time. The painting and prompts will be on the second floor through the middle of March.