Mitchell-Innes & Nash is pleased to feature new work by Marcus Leslie Singleton in his inaugural show with the gallery. On view from December 14, 2023 through January 27, 2024, Return from Exile showcases 10 new paintings, including the artist’s largest paintings to date, and his first exhibited video. A deeply personal show, Return from Exile confronts issues of visibility, spirituality and the historical significance of everyday moments.
“We are not bound by our histories. I don’t believe we have to keep doing the same things we used to do under the umbrella of tradition,” said Singleton. “That is what I’m critiquing and challenging in the show—attempting to reconstruct a beginning or a new standard of humanizing us in this new age.”
Best known for his figurative paintings, Singleton’s new works are directly inspired by archival family footage, including snapshots and home videos provided by the artist’s relatives, as well as representations of childhood recollections and memories that the artist refers to as “visual storytelling.” This process of research revealed truths not only about Singleton and his family, but also broader narratives about the landscape of American history as the exhibition maps a journey from the Jim Crow-era South to contemporary Los Angeles and Seattle.
Highlights include Elliyoun (2023), a panoramic triptych inspired by a family holiday photograph that celebrates multi-generational bonds and togetherness. Named for his great-great-grandmother Elliyoun Pulley, the work originated as a black-and-white 1940’s snapshot of the family in Arkansas that Singleton interprets in color. Dee Dee (2023) is a portrait of Singleton’s serenely smiling mother who seems to float in a Matisse-inspired luminous blue.
The diptych Man’s Soul Turning into a Rock (2023), featuring a cobalt blue figure at the center, is inspired by the parable of Lot’s Wife that Singleton’s grandparents would tell him in his youth. Blue Angels (2023) is based on a 1997 family snapshot taken at an air show in Tacoma, with kids sitting on the hood of a car, waiting for the excitement to begin.
Singleton’s video War Horn (2023) is an eight-minute montage of home movies and found footage, including family videos of children at a playground, birthday parties and riding a hobby horse; snippets of interviews and performances by James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Jimi Hendrix and Nina Simone; anime and video games; and choir and voguing performances. The video is unified with interludes of calm flowing water and underwater imagery.