Marcus Jahmal’s paintings operate like a flexible, moving chessboard, composed of various color fields, on the ground of which a cast of characters play an eerie game, as in a dream. A woman’s leg protrudes into the picture; a cat hisses; a tuxedoed gentleman smokes a cigar in front of a giant, sleeping bat; angry hounds–a pack morphing into a Cerberus–snarl at the viewer; a musician offers his instrument to a still, half-nude dancer. These color fields–the stages so to speak–carry on the long history of non-representational painting, yet the figures’ anti-naturalism and feisty simultaneity extend that of expressionism.

In Jahmal’s work, the hierarchy of background and foreground are reversed: the crucial, focal component being the grounds of color on which his symbols and figures exist. Rich purples, greens, pinks, and oranges dance across these canvases. Much like notes in an improvised jazz record, they contradict all traditional “rules” of color or composition.

Jahmal’s engagement with art history is also an important aspect of the work. He refers to a number of notable painters of the 19th century, with an acute self-awareness of the artist’s contemporary context. He engages with the traditions of the interiors of Bonnard and Vuillard, for example–their subtly charged domestic scenes with flattened renderings of space–but with decidedly bold contemporary colors and brash images, a 21st century version of the muted, lush, and atmospheric paintings of his predecessors.

Finally, the notion of entertainment is a theme that runs throughout the new works – musicians, bullfighters, dancers, and clowns, among others. As ever in Jahmal’s works, there is always a double meaning – here, a kinship with his icons and symbols known, historically, as entertainment, performing for others – much like the expectations of an artist of today. 

Marcus Jahmal (b. 1990) lives and works in New York. He was raised in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, growing up in a family with roots in the West Indies and American south. His paintings synthesize a diverse range of inspirations and autobiography, drawing from photographs, ancient rituals, and personal memories.

As Jahmal explains, “most of [my] figures have a personality and a link to real life; I’m interested in a kind of filtered realism”. Skulls, anthropomorphic creatures, rolling landscapes, thieves, card players, and policemen, occupy spaces that feel steeped in a collective memory at once primordial and precognitive of some future world where polymorphism reigns and metaphors are fluid. Marcus Jahmal has exhibited widely in the United States, Europe, and Asia.  




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