In every installment of The Artists, T highlights a recent or little-seen work by a black artist, along with a few words by that artist that put the work into context. This week we are looking at 2 Tone Barbershop (2021), a painting by Marcus Brutus whose next show is ‘maiden voyage‘, opened March 31 at 512 Harper’s Chelsea in Manhattan.
Surname: Mark Brutus
Based in: Queens
Originally from: Silver Spring, Md.
Where and when did you do this work? I made it in my Brooklyn studio in October 2021. I moved to New York for school in 2009 and fell in love with the city and Queens in particular.
Can you describe what is going on at work? It shows the waiting area in a hair salon; That’s why there’s this spiral barbershop motif in the background. I started with a found image of the pattern behind the two gentlemen’s heads and chose their poses to reflect that design. They both have their legs crossed – one of their expressions is less disinterested than the other, but there’s still a sync. I named this painting “2 Tone Barbershop” after a fictional barber shop I invented that references the two tone music genre of the late 70’s and 80’s due to this mirroring. The music mixed punk and ska and the artists created a lot of really synchronized images where the boys and girls were all wearing very simple black suits and gear. This was my head putting it all together.
What inspired you to do this? Every day I collect images and screenshots and look at documentaries and archive material and then I just live with these images for months. Then when I think about painting a new picture, I go back to my memory bank. My approach to painting is almost like that of a collagist because there is no single painting to which I refer; There are many different elements that I draw from to create a cohesive image. Which I used as a reference point for the faces I created here – this image had nothing to do with what I used for the bodies they are attached to or the scene in the background. Basically, I try to put together images that move me, anything that piques my interest, and layer black figures on top to put all the things that interest me in one place.
I’ve always had images dealing with either being in the hair salon or being in the hair salon – this is the first one that isn’t about someone being actively worked on but just references that environment. Most of the subjects of my paintings are imaginary figures that I try to make representative of a unique yet collective experience – in reality they aren’t because we haven’t all had the same experiences, but I try to find these scenes that would be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of something most black people have known. So each painting is meant to represent a monolith of black life, which I combine with really bright fluorescent colors to make things a little bit more accessible.
What is an artwork in any medium that has changed your life? I would say Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (1992). I saw it when I was 15 and it focused my interest on the black experience and black history and learning more about those things. Before that, I didn’t have much understanding or interest in this subject, and opening my mind to it led to my becoming an artist. I suggest viewing this film as the beginning of everything I do.
This interview has been edited and abridged.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/25/t-magazine/marcus-brutus-harpers.html Two men enter a hairdressing salon as intended by Marcus Brutus