IN THE HANDS OF Marcus Brutus scenes of contemporary black life are saturated with vibrant color and layered with cultural references. Harper’s Books in East Hampton, N.Y., is presenting the artist’s second solo show. About two-dozen paintings made in 2018 and 2019 are on view. The individual and group portraits and scenes of leisure and work are inspired by source images and informed by literature, culture, news, and history.

“Self-Portrait #6: At the River I Stand” (2019) depicts the artist kneeling in work coveralls with “At the River I Stand” embroidered over his chest pocket. The phrase derives from the title of a documentary about the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

In “Daytime Is the Right Time” (2019), Brutus’s subject stretches his arms out across a weathered wood bench. A large white house and an expansive lake are in the background. On the lawn behind him, there is an African mask and a canoe with “Idlewild” written on the side, referencing the black summer resort in Michigan that thrived during Jim Crow.

The title of the painting references a six decade-old song called “Night Time is the Right Time.” First recorded by Nappy Brown in 1957, it was made popular when Ray Charles sang it a year later.

Another painting portrays a woman posing on the beach, specifically Inkwell Beach on Martha’s Vineyard, as the sign behind her indicates. The subject in “Portrait of a Collegiate Woman” (2019) wears a Hampton University sweatshirt, the Virginia HBCU whose museum houses a storied collection of African American art and is home to the International Review of African American Art.


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Self-Portrait #6: At the River I Stand,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 36 x 36 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “The Inkwell,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 48 x 48 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 

THE TITLE of Brutus’s exhibition, “Go To Work. Get Your Money and Come Home. You Don’t Live There,” is adapted from sage advice Toni Morrison’s father gave her when she was a teenager. The Nobel prize-winning author, who died yesterday, has mentioned what he told her about work, self worth, and agency in interviews and wrote about it in a New Yorker essay in 2017.

The title is fitting. In the exhibition description, Harper’s Books states that, in his work, Brutus “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. …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.”

Marcus Brutus “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.”

In the context of the counsel Morrison received from her father, cultural dexterity is a necessary reflex at work and home equates with the black metropolis—Idlewild, Inkwell Beach, Hampton University, and the like.

The title work, “Go to Work, Get Your Money & Come Home. You Don’t Live There” (2019), shows a man braiding his son’s hair, presumably at home, with small posters on the wall behind them. The posters commemorate “Black is…Black Ain’t,” the 1995 feature-length documentary about black identity by Marlon Riggs; “L’afrance,” a 2001 film by French Senegalese director Alain Gomis, which focuses on a young Senegalese student in Paris dealing with immigration issues; and a Haitian art exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in the late 1970s. The details in the painting resonate with the artist’s biography. A child of immigrants, his family is from Haiti.

In other paintings by Brutus, female tennis players are pictured at Althea Gibson Tennis Club, beauty pageant contestants wear religious head wraps, and revolutionary activists sit for an interview in “Women of the Black Panthers (Angela Davis, Ericka Huggins and Jonina Abron).”

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Go to Work, Get Your Money & Come Home. You Don’t Live There.,” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 30 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Pageant Contestants,” 2018 (acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 

“THE UHMERICANS,” the artist’s first solo exhibition, was presented last fall at Harper’s Apartment, the bookstore/gallery’s Manhattan location. His work has also been featured in a couple of group exhibitions in New York—“I’m Made of Water” at Rental Gallery in East Hampton and “American African American,” a selling exhibition organized by Arnold Lehman at Phillips auction house.

New York-based Brutus earned a B.S. degree from St. John’s University in Queens, where he studied public relations. In a recent Twilight Talks interview produced by the City University of New York (CUNY), the artist said in the process of learning to paint (he taught himself), as his painting improved he became a better storyteller.

Brutus also discussed the cultural cues that show up in his work. “The work works best when I’m referencing something that maybe was overlooked or forgotten and I can reintroduce it in the work,” he said in the Twilight Talks interview.

“What I’m looking to do is establish a bit of legacy. Currently, it’s Black Lives Matter. What they’re discussing, what they’re protesting and talking about. It isn’t new. There tends not be a continuation of these discussions. It ends with one generation and then it gets picked up by the next. I want to tell these very contemporary issues but show them as having a long past.”

Brutus added: “The work isn’t all about drama. There’s also been long lineages of exceptional figures and I want to show light to the work that they’ve been doing.” CT

 

“Marcus Brutus: Go To Work. Get Your Money and Come Home. You Don’t Live There” on view at Harper’s Books in East Hampton, N.Y., July 13-Aug. 8, 2019

 

TOP IMAGE: MARCUS BRUTUS, “Daytime Is the Right Time,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 40 x 60 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 

WATCH an interview with artist Marcus Brutus conducted by Kevin Moore for Twilight Talks produced by CUNY TV

 

BOOKSHELF
Recently published by Harper’s Books and featuring an essay by Antwaun Sargent, “The Uhmericans” is the first volume to document the work of Marcus Brutus.

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “At Home at the Local Market,” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


Installation view of “Marcus Brutus: Go To Work. Get Your Money and Come Home. You Don’t Live There,” Harper’s Books, East Hampton, N.Y. (July 13-Aug. 8, 2019). | Courtesy Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “In Honor of Althea,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 48 x 48 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “The Dutchmen,” 2018 (acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Portrait of a Collegiate Woman,” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


Installation view of “Marcus Brutus: Go To Work. Get Your Money and Come Home. You Don’t Live There,” Harper’s Books, East Hampton, N.Y. (July 13-Aug. 8, 2019). | Courtesy Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Sports Painting: Training,” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Black Brother, Strong Brother,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 40 x 50 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


Installation view of “Marcus Brutus: Go To Work. Get Your Money and Come Home. You Don’t Live There,” Harper’s Books, East Hampton, N.Y. (July 13-Aug. 8, 2019). Shown, From left, “Sports Painting: Genesis” (2019) and “Ladies in Green, Pink, White, & Blue” (2019). | Courtesy Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Sister Odell,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 48 x 36 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Untitled,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 36 x 48 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Black Jockey,” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “I Love Ghana,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 60 x 36 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Women of the Black Panthers (Angela Davis, Ericka Huggins and Jonina Abron),” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


Installation view of “Marcus Brutus: Go To Work. Get Your Money and Come Home. You Don’t Live There,” Harper’s Books, East Hampton, N.Y. (July 13-Aug. 8, 2019). | Courtesy Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Ground Zero Heroes,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 36 x 60 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 


MARCUS BRUTUS, “Summertime NYC,” 2019 (acrylic on linen, 48 x 60 inches). | © Marcus Brutus, Courtesy the artist and Harper’s Books

 

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