Kerry James Marshall ( born 1955)
Our Town
Acrylic and collage on canvas
Photography by Vancouver Art Gallery.
Contemporary Art Gallery

Description of Our Town

NARRATOR: The painting that you are in front of is entitled Our Town and was made in 1995 by an artist named Kerry James Marshall using acrylic and collage on canvas. It is 143 inches wide and 101 inches tall and depicts an outdoor scene featuring two African American children running and bicycling toward us as a dog runs beside them on a road amongst trees and several white houses in the background. Instead of being displayed in a frame, the painting was created on a sheet of canvas with finished edges and is attached directly to the wall with several silver grommets. Large smooth sheets of paper have been collaged onto this sheet of canvas, and the painting was made directly onto these sheets of paper. The painting spans from roughly one foot above floor level to 5 feet over one’s head in height with a width of two adults’ outstretched arms.

To get a sense of the shape of the road that the children play on, extend your right arm out beside you. Now, bend your elbow and bring your right hand to touch your nose. In this scene, the children and the dog would be located near your right shoulder, while the white houses of the neighborhood in the background would be located along your forearm. A large, open area filled with grass and trees that the children are playing in front of would be located within the sideways U-shaped space created by the shape of your bent arm.

A large white wooden house would be located closest to your elbow. This house is two stories high with a brick-red roof, several large windows flanked by light blue shutters, and an enclosed garage that extends off of the right side of the house. To the right of the garage, we see an above ground pool and a swing set that is cut off by the right side of the canvas.

An African American woman stands on the well-manicured lawn in front of this house. She wears a pink dress with a full skirt and a frilly pink apron. She is too far off in the distance for us to see her facial features, but we can see that her left hand is on her hip as her right hand is raised to wave at the children.

The other houses on the left side of the artwork are smaller and clustered together. These houses are also made of white wood with brick-red roofs, but there are very few additional details beyond the horizontal slats of the wood including no doors or windows. Several trees with leaves made using a stamping technique provide a lush backdrop behind the houses.

[Birds chirping fades in]

The dog and the two children are located closer to us in the foreground—they are just slightly off center in the lower right portion of the canvas. The children are a boy and a girl that appear to be between the ages of 8 and 10. Both children’s skin is a deep shade of black—as black as the three unnaturally circular shadows that are cast below them and the dog on the mottled gray road that they play on. Their facial features are delicately rendered using thin lines of white paint.

The boy’s hair is cut close to his scalp, and he wears a greyish-white sweatshirt, blue jeans, and white sneakers as he rides a red bicycle with red and white tassels on the handlebars [bike spokes whirring and children laughing]. The boy’s face is turned to the right side of the canvas where the girl runs beside him, but his eyes peer quizzically at the viewer.

The girl runs to the right of the boy and is wearing a Campfire Girls uniform that features a red vest over a short-sleeved oxford shirt, a blue skirt, white sneakers and blue knee high tube socks. The girl’s hair is pulled into three sections at the top and sides of her head with bubble ponytail holders. Her runner’s pose appears to be rigid or powerful with her hands balled into tight fists as her right arm is pulled up next to her head while her right leg trails behind her. Instead of looking directly at us, the girl appears to gaze somewhere behind us. Above the girl’s head are five light mint-colored bubbles that are reminiscent of a thought bubble. The small black and white dog runs with all four paws off of the ground to the right of the girl [dog barking].

The large, open area filled with grass and trees is located just behind the children on the left side of the canvas. Small blue birds swoop down from the tree tops with yellow ribbons in their beaks in an almost fairy-tale-like fashion, and some of these ribbons are tied in bows on a few of the trees in this scene. At the top of the trees near the upper middle portion of the canvas, the artist has placed the words “Our Town” in blocky red and white letters.

The artist has disrupted the harmony of this otherwise idyllic scene by placing harsh lines of scratchy, black, white and blue graffiti-like markings over the trees and yellow ribbons in this section. Similarly, the artist has completely covered over a few star-shaped areas to the left of the “Our Town” words with the same scratchy blue paint that is reminiscent of graffiti. White graffiti-like marks also appear in the bottom right corner of the canvas near to where the dog runs and on several oddly-placed signs throughout the canvas. A fire hydrant painted in red, white, and blue is located in the bottom right corner of the canvas next to the dog. Additionally, a red ball with white lines and a star sits in the bottom left corner of the canvas [birds chirping fades out].

Thank you for listening to the verbal description app tour. Check back for more tour stops in the future. For additional information about accommodations for guests with disabilities and access programs, please visit our website.

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