Marcus Leslie Singleton highlights the joys, routines and challenges of daily life as a Black man in contemporary America, navigating brutality and fetishization alike.
A new show of Marcus Leslie Singleton’s work opens at the Journal Gallery in Manhattan today. I talked to the artist about one of the included paintings for T Magazine’s On View series. “This work shows my sister’s 8th birthday party. She’s front and center getting ready to blow out the candles, and next to her is my grandmother Helen, who passed away last year. My cousin Daniel and I are to my sister’s right, and behind her is my cousin Zealand...That garland in the background here, that actually was a mistake — ‘happy’ has three Ps in it — but I made an artistic choice to leave it. I was painting this when people were getting the P.P.P. loans for coronavirus relief, so I thought I’d keep it as a tongue-in-cheek joke.”
One of the most promising young artists working today is Marcus Leslie Singleton, a Brooklyn-based painter whose work depicts the intimacy of Black communities in daily life. His figures, often joyful and familiar with one another, lounge on living room sofas or play cards beneath the shade of a mammoth patio umbrella. They shoot hoops in a sun-filled neighborhood basketball court and chat with friends at the local deli, mulling over buying a lotto ticket. In his work, Singleton distills, down to the moment, the parallel realities of Black joy and hardship with a kind of immediacy that is at once poignant and hopeful, love-filled and close-knit. Artnet News recently sat down with Singleton, who describes his work as an ongoing examination of “time and the Black body,” to hear about his new show at the Pit L.A., what he needs in his studio to make his work come together, and more.
We've been enjoying the editions coming through the newly launched platform Variable Editions, and are happy to see them putting out another release, this time with Marcus Leslie Singleton. Aiming to offer unique, yet more affordable works by the sought-out artists while having a charity side of their efforts, their next drop with the Seattle-born and NY-based artist will benefit Nazareth Housing NYC. "Currently, my work is a reflection on reality," Singleton wrote in the statement accompanying this release. "The thinking behind the work is to make something that has occurred at a certain point, specifically this strange, clouded time we’re all experiencing, atemporal. I don’t wish to make the memories, however painful, joyful, or graphic outlast time, my aim is to be truthful and as transparent through my art as I can so that in effect the thought inscribed in the work outlasts the constraints of time, and maybe that gets us somewhere." And such an approach to creating imagery seems to be fitting perfectly with Variable Editions' concept of creating unique works based on the same, screen-printed image.
“Being a part of the circus is being born into this world,” said Marcus Leslie Singleton regarding his first solo exhibition, “Circusland,” at Turn Gallery in 2019. Across a series of twelve oil-on-panel works for this new show, Singleton traded the spectacle of acrobats and unicyclists for pointed yet subtle observations about contemporary Black life. Each of Singleton’s “Bubble Paintings” (2020–21) features ovoids—which double as cocoons, apparitions, or entrapments—set against colorful backgrounds with willowy leaves and branches. The forms evoke the visual language of comics and graphic novels: a world within a world, but with Black figures inside. In the press release, Singleton articulates this formal choice as reflecting a kind of exhausting duplicity—“how you could be physically somewhere and mentally in a different space.” Moreover, his approach highlights the anxieties of the African American experience, in which one is “policed and praised in the same breath.”
Marcus Leslie Singleton’s paintings use color and space to make the events of contemporary political life atemporal; to investigate the enduring emotional, intellectual, and experiential conditions that lie beneath the stories of our lives. Singleton is interested in the emotional and energetic resonances that his expressionistic use of color and shape can create. He elicits an affective response from the viewer, and prioritizes the imagining that art makes possible: he aims to step from the familiar Black monolith and define Blackness from an unknowing, atemporal space, as blank canvas. Aiming to ‘widen the peripheral of what this time means to us and our spirits,’ in his own words, the artist sets out to begin conversations and inquisitions not only for his audience, but within himself.