SOB, SOB evokes Marshall’s intellectual journey over the last fifty years beginning with his boyhood visits to the local library. According to the artist, by the third and fourth grades he knew “every single art book in the library,” and by the seventh grade he was taking summer classes at the Otis Art Institute. SOB, SOB reflects this thirst for information. It is a painting about the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge, and relates closely to Marshall’s ongoing exploration of African American history.
The painting depicts a female figure seated in front of a tall shelf of African history books. A volume titled Africa since 1413 lies at her feet as she gazes into the sunlit interior. It’s unclear whether her contemplative gaze is one of wistful longing for a pre-colonial past or anguish over the transformation of the African continent that began in 1413 with European expeditionary missions. A thought bubble floating above the girl’s head further complicates this emotional ambiguity. The text can be read as either a cry of despair or a pointed expression of anger.
Painted in 2003, SOB, SOB marks a pivotal moment in Marshall’s career as one of the first paintings to address the idea of black aesthetics. The term “black aesthetics” first emerged in the early 1960s as a means of promoting racial equality and fostering black cultural pride. Writers, musicians, and visual artists of the period imbued their work with the tones and textures of African American heritage to create a unique form of expression. Marshall’s own exploration of black aesthetics grows out of previous paintings like The Garden Project series (1995), which focused on the failed utopia of urban renewal through federal housing projects. SOB, SOB not only represents a new conceptual direction for Marshall, but also a stylistic shift from the glitter-encrusted Souvenir paintings (1998–2002) that commemorate cultural heroes of the civil rights era. In contrast, SOB, SOB presents a spare interior space very different from these earlier works. Here we see Marshall at his most serious and technically refined, meditating on the events that have shaped the lives of African Americans today.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2010
SOB, SOB marks a pivotal moment in Kerry James Marshall’s career. It is one of his earliest paintings to address the idea of black aesthetics. Beginning in the early 1960s, writers, musicians, and visual artists imbued their work with the tones and textures of African American heritage to create a unique form of expression. The painting depicts a female figure seated in front of a tall shelf of African history books. This work is about the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge and relates closely to the artist’s ongoing exploration of African American history.
Smithsonian American Art Museum: Commemorative Guide. Nashville, TN: Beckon Books, 2015.
- 108 x 72 in. (274.3 x 182.9 cm)
© 2003, Kerry James Marshall
- Credit Line
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
- Mediums Description
- acrylic on fiberglass
- Figure female
- Object – written matter – book
- Architecture Interior
- Object – letter
- Object Number
- Linked Open Data
- Linked Open Data URI