Kerry James Marshall’s work, specifically his Black Painting currently on display at the Blanton Museum of Art has made me think of my Daddy’s generation (yes, I call my father Daddy) . Black Painting is a black on black painting on fiberglass. Through the use of cool and warm blacks, Marshall constructs an image of a bedroom. I watch viewers wrestle with this painting. Some don’t take the time to look twice and some spend up to 10-15 minutes (which is a lot for museum viewers) actively searching the surface for hints as to the subject matter. First, the heels off center in the foreground of the painting are “picked out” first. Then the books on the night stand, one being Angela Davis’ If They Come In The Morning and then the figures in the bed. Are the figures having sex? Are the figures awake? Are they rising or laying down? The Black Panther Banner that hangs in the upper right of the canvas is usually one of the last items identified before the semi-interested viewer walks away. This is in part due to the ignorance, fear and construction of the Black Panthers as militant and the “black version of the KKK” (yes, I heard escape someone’s ignorant mouth). Not many people take the time to know the history of the Black Panthers and their involvement pass the infamous quote “The Revolution will not be televised”. Nor do many know that Huey Newton is actually Dr. Huey P. Newton with a Ph.D in Social Philosophy or that Bobby Seale is still alive and kicking or that Angela Davis absolutely HATES the fact that the Black Panther/Black Power Movement is often reduced to a hairstyle (i.e the Afro).
But back to the painting. Black Painting is a depiction of the home of Fred Hampton. Killed at the young age of 21 years old, Hampton was the deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. On December 4, 1969, the Chicago Police (with help from Cook County Attorney General and FBI), raided Hampton’s apartment. With over 6 police officers from 4:45 am to 4:52 am, each fired into the home Killing Hampton and Mark Clark. Hampton’s body was then dragged outside where he was shot two more times at point blank range in the head for “safe measure”. I found out from Chicago native and artist John Yancy, that the Black Panthers opened to apartment for tours days later and he actually saw the bullet riddle home and the blood soaked mattress with his very own eyes.
My Daddy was born October 30, 1962. Before he was ten years old a multitude of black leaders and activist were imprisoned, beaten and killed. And don’t forget that all of these leaders had varying approaches of how to liberate black people within U.S. In other words, not all were preaching Jesus, or Islam. Some wanted to educate people of their “inalienable rights” as U.S. citizens. Can you imagine the state of mind of Black people at the time, when their major leaders were being assassinated with a 10 year span? The question What do we do now?? is an understatement! And after these leaders, who were the next set of role models? Gangsta Rap? NWA? TuPac Shakur? The minister?
For the past two months, Black Painting has been more than a painting to me… and this blog is the best way to explain what or perhaps how I think about it.
A few weeks ago, my Daddy came to visit me and I didn’t tell him what the painting was about or who it was by and within 2 minutes of looking at it he said “Its Fred Hampton”.