"The work of African-American artists has for a long time been seen more as a kind of social phenomena instead of aesthetic phenomena. The social implications of the work — be it identity politics and things like that — seem to be privileged in terms of the way the work is received, as opposed to any kind of aesthetic project or intervention the work might be organized around...
On some level, I thought maybe the only thing that was left to do was to make paintings about love. And to take a cynical approach to the concept of love, to the concept of the Vignettes (2003-07), so that they don’t seem to directly address the social and political issues that had been relevant to me and maybe to a lot of other artists who want to make work.
I began by looking at a lot of 18th Century French painting — Rococo work — like Boucher, Fragonard, Bouguereau, and other artists who themselves are also critiqued but critiqued for a lack of political depth in their work, for the frivolity of the work and for the work being kind of saccharine and sentimental and overly puffy and flowery. I started to take those two things and see if I could put them together — to preserve a certain element of the social, political, and historical narratives that are still important to me, but also to deal with the sentimentality, frivolity, and excesses that are embedded in Rococo painting...
One of the reasons I use the grisaille technique in those paintings was to deny a bit of the Rococo. If you take a genre of painting that’s recognized for being pretty or flowery, but you want to start to do some other things, then you have to strip away some of those characteristics. One of the first characteristics is the over-investment in color that those pictures would have. So I stripped away the color, which reduces a certain amount of sweetness in the pictures. Black and white always tends towards a level of seriousness, and you can use it to avoid sentimentality when you’re dealing with highly keyed chromatic kind of relationships. The only color note in there is the cartoony pink in the hearts. The pink is a way of refusing to deliver on all of the points of which grisaille is supposed to deliver. And I chose to paint the hearts pink specifically to emphasize the disconnection between the overtly romantic imagery in the foreground and the historical or political imagery in the background."
Kerry James Marshall quoted in an interview with Wesley Miller, Art21 Magazine, September 2008
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