Contemporary artists Robert Colescott (1925-2009), Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955), and Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) are distinguished by their attention to a history of representation, which they re-visit and revise to reflect on individual and collective Black experience. Equally engaged with social and political histories, and the history of art, Colescott, Marshall, and Thomas have created works that at times poignantly and satirically critique dominant narratives and posit alternatives. By considering these artists together, this thought-provoking book expands our understanding of contemporary history painting, a genre first defined during the 17th century and known for didactic paintings that often depicted Biblical or mythological subjects, and expressed the tastes and narratives of a ruling class. Colescott, Marshall, and Thomas marry appreciation of these traditional forms of representation to a deep understanding of contemporary American culture to create insightful works that disrupt historic narratives and read canonic art history against the grain.
Catharina Manchanda is Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum. Lowery Stokes Sims is curator emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design. Jacqueline Francis is associate professor at California College of the Arts.