Harper’s Books is pleased to present the second solo show of work by the New York-based artist Marcus Brutus, Go To Work. Get Your Money and Come Home. You Don’t Live There. Taking its title from Toni Morrison’s 2017 essay “The Work You Do, The Person You Are,” this exhibition will bring together a selection of recent figurative acrylic-on-linen paintings that depict scenes of contemporary life throughout the African diaspora. The show will open with a reception, attended by the artist, on Saturday, July 13, from 6-8 pm.
Across his vibrantly saturated and densely layered paintings, Brutus probes the power dynamics of society through portraiture, melding distinct literary, artistic, musical, and historical sources to construct imagined tableaux of the everyday. In the works comprising this exhibition, he addresses the division between personal expression and public presentation, drawing specifically upon the concepts of “cultural dexterity” and the “black metropolis” to consider strategies of resistance and perseverance in relation to black life. These themes, the artist notes, reverberate throughout the canvases on view: Whereas “cultural dexterity” involves the ability to adapt one’s behavior to fit in with another group without losing one’s identity, the “black metropolis,” coined by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, refers to the African American communities that have formed as places of refuge from racist policies and sentiment.
In the artist’s penetrating exploration of racialized space, Brutus’s subjects, inspired by a vast repertoire of found images, navigate assorted sites of employment, community, and leisure, from advertising agencies and tennis courts to churches and city streets. Rendered in broad patches of lightly blended pigment with coarsely sketched contours, they are frozen mid-action—stoically striding down a catwalk, carefully arranging a headscarf, or attentively gazing beyond the frame—in vignettes that distill transitory moments of effusiveness and restraint. In Black Brother, Strong Brother, based on a documentary on the students of a rigorous Brooklyn prep school, a pair of youths tenderly embrace. Elsewhere, Brutus’s subjects repose within the “black metropolises” of Hampton University and the twentieth-century African American resort town of Idlewild, Michigan. Echoing the quote cited in the exhibition title, these paintings reaffirm the strictly wrought distinction between spaces of comfort and labor, belonging and alienation, revealing not only Brutus’s refreshingly original style, but also his discerning attention to thematic resonances across society, culture, and history.
Marcus Brutus is a self-taught, New York-based artist who holds a bachelor of science degree from St. John’s University in Queens, New York. His first solo exhibition, The Uhmericans, was presented at Harper’s Apartment, New York in 2018. His work was also included in the 2018 edition of the Upstairs Art Fair in Amagansett, NY, and the 2019 group show American African American, curated by Arnold Lehman, at Phillips, New York. Brutus’s first book, Marcus Brutus: The Uhmericans, is forthcoming from Harper’s Books and features an essay by Antwaun Sargent.