The 60-year-old artist, who lives and works in South Side, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time before the Civil Rights Act had been passed. He witnessed the Watts riots of 1965, all parts of history which would carve out Marshall's goal as an artist.

As a budding artist in the 1960's and 1970's, Marshall noticed how black lives were missing from the canvas, which lead to his life-long project of infiltrating the Western canon of art with the African-American narrative.

"The museums were built around these old masterworks, but there were no black people in that pantheon of old masters," Marshall said.

"That was a part of the whole motivation.''

His works have a key message: in paint, black lives matter. From the Renaissance to 20th-century American abstraction, Marshall shakes up the history of art, his works a tableau of black American life.

Kerry James Marshall Image via Freunde Der Kuenste Kerry James Marshall
Image via Freunde Der Kuenste

Perhaps his most influential work is Marshall's Rythm Mastr, an ongoing comic book which Marshall once explained he created ''because I saw that black kids are interested in comics and superheroes just like everybody else. But the market has somehow never been able to sustain a set of black super heroes in a way that could capture the imagination, not just of the black populations but also of the general population as a whole.''

The exhibition at MCA begins with a small work of portraiture depicting a grinning African-American figure, near-hidden in the shadows. The work, titled Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self was partly inspired by Ralph Ellison's theme of black absence in his 1952 novel Invisible Man.

Kerry James Marshall, A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self, 1980. Egg tempera on paper; 8 x 6 ½ in. (20.3 x 16.5 cm). Steven and Deborah Lebowitz Photo: Matthew Fried © MCA Chicago Kerry James Marshall, A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self, 1980. Egg tempera on paper; 8 x 6 ½ in. (20.3 x 16.5 cm). Steven and Deborah Lebowitz Photo: Matthew Fried © MCA Chicago

Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker director of the MCA Chicago, comments: "His paintings — you know this standing in front of them — they are extraordinarily generous, visually generous.''

There is a richness of color, a richness of composition. There's an excess of giving back to the viewer on aesthetic terms. But underneath, there has been a deeply intellectual enterprise."

"Kerry James Marshall: Mastry" will run from April 23 to September 25, 2016 at MCA Chicago, 220 E. Chicago Ave. For more information, see here.

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