Across several decades, Kerry James Marshall has become known for his expertise in capturing Black American culture and history. One of his pivotal pieces of work was “The Lost Boys,” inspired by his upbringing in South Central Los Angeles, CA, during the time when the gangs the Crips and the Bloods were formed.
“When I finished ‘The Lost Boys,’ I stood back and said, ‘This is the kind of painting I always imagined myself making,’” Marshall recalled to The New Yorker. “It seemed to me to have the scale of the great history paintings, mixed with the rich surface effects you get from modernist painting. I felt it was a synthesis of everything I’d seen, everything I’d read, everything that I thought was important about the whole practice of painting and making pictures.”
In addition to “The Lost Boys,” “De Style” was a catalyst for his successful career in 1993. The painting features four Black men in a barbershop. According to The New Yorker, Marshall sold it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for around $12,000 — marking his first major museum sale. The achievement fueled him to widely scale representation of Black bodies and Black faces in well-known art spaces.
Marshall’s art has since captured the attention of celebrities including Sean “Diddy” Combs. Back in May 2018, the business mogul purchased the artist’s painting “Past Times” in a Sotheby’s auction for $21.1 million — reportedly making it the most ever paid for the work of a living Black American artist at the time — according to The New York Times.
While Marshall’s work has been acquired for millions of dollars, he made an unforeseen move in September 2023. He designed a piece of work for the Washington National Cathedral for only $18.65, per Financial Times. As the stained glass art replaced pieces that had honored two Confederate generals, the price tag coincides with the year the American Civil War ended.
Additionally, Marshall recently revealed his 2020 painting of literary critic and friend Henry Louis Gates Jr. — which is his debut formal portrait painting of a living subject. The painting was donated to Cambridge University in England.