Marcus Brutus pairs fluorescent colours with historical moments

The figurative painter uses his medium to tell stories of Black experience, culture and history.

Date
11 January 2021
Reading Time
3 minute read

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Although wonderfully colourful on its exterior, the work of Marcus Brutus is more than superficial. The surface of his paintings depict chromatic hues, where bursts of sunset red are paired effortlessly with primary yellows, blues and greens. Meanwhile, these sunset shades sit side-by-side with multicoloured splashes of confetti falling from the sky, or the twinkling blues of a swimming pool. Then, positioned in front of these joyful backdrops are his subjects, those of which have been painted in such detail that with each expression and posture comes a signal to a moment in time.

As for the painter’s background, Marcus Brutus is born and raised in Maryland to two Haitian parents. During his upbringing, he was exposed to art through his school trip visits to the National Gallery of the Arts. “There’s always an element of escapism whenever I visit a museum,” says Marcus, speaking fondly of his first moments among art. “My interest in art is accompanied by a strong interest in history, more specifically African diasporic history.”

Despite his long-term affection with the arts, it wasn’t until after studying science at St. John’s University – without any formal arts training – that Marcus decided to pursue the medium of painting professionally. He learned the ropes on his own, which enabled him to create on his own terms proceeding with a style that’s indeed his own. But of course, like every artist, he works with a few influences in mind. This includes physical materials such as found imagery, archived footage and that which is taken from the books that he reads – favourably Pan-Africanism and its subjects which always tend to find a way into his work. Otherwise, he cites current events as providing constant inspiration, as well as many artists such as Alice Neel, Peter Doig, Kerry James Marshall, Luc Tuymans and John Biggers.

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Marcus Brutus: ‘Line-up’ (2020). Acrylic on canvas, 24x20 in. (Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2020)

Once his influences are in tow, Marcus will proceed in finding the right podcast set up – “an extended listening session” – or any audio that will run for over an hour, a move introduced so that he can remain concentrated without interruption. After which he’ll move onto organising his materials and start the painting process. “Generally, I already have an idea of what it is that I plan on painting from the previous evening,” he tells It’s Nice That, while the rest remains as a highly intuitive, creative and colourful output.

Marcus’ process ends with a saturated portrait of life in America, whereby Black experience, culture, history and humanity are rooted at the centre. Throughout his portfolio, his subjects remain in spaces that seem familiar – be it a home, a pool or in the park – offering a sense of mundanity to his paintings, a juxtaposing trait that contrasts with his unrealistic, exaggerated colour palettes. That Final Journey (2020) is one of his most recent, a piece inspired by the found shipwreck of the last transatlantic slave ship that travelling from present day Benin Alabama. “Aboard that ship,” says Marcus, “was Matilda McCrear who is believed to be the last known survivor of the slave trade (1857-1940).” The piece is particularly powerful, where the bold, colourful background sets the tone for the subject matter placed among it.

Tomorrow’s Tomorrow (2020) is another favourite of his, which sees a painting of an anonymous woman shopping in a market. Within, the woman’s shirt reads “Tomorrow’s tomorrow” which Marcus says is a reference to Joyce A. Ladner’s book of a similar name, “in which she investigates life for the average girl in the urban Black community.” Like others, the piece has a remarkably hued background symbolic of a sunset, giving space to his subject and their narrative; a compelling blend of the everyday fuelled by parts of history.

Above all, Marcus hopes that his work and the stories involved will draw people in and inspire them to learn something. He composes his paintings in two parts, the first being that of figurative scenes with “fluorescent and bright colours” while the rest is formed of layers referencing Black history. Powerful, evocative and immensely moving, there’s no doubt that his audience will emotionally respond to his work – a purposeful move that gives space to the education of Black history.

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Marcus Brutus: Tomorrow's Tomorrow (2020). Acrylic on canvas, 48x36 in. (Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2020)

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Marcus Brutus: That Final Journey (2020). Acrylic on linen, 48x36 in. (Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2020)

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Marcus Brutus: “How ‘Bout Us” (2020). Acrylic on canvas, 48x48 in. (Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2020)

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Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2020

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Marcus Brutus: Go to Work. Get Your Money and Come Home. You Don’t Live There.” (2019). Acrylic on canvas, 48x30 in. (Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2019)

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Marcus Brutus: ‘Legacy of the Igbo Landing’ (2020). Acrylic on canvas, 48x60 in. (Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2020)

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Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2020

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Marcus Brutus: ‘Black Athlete Bouillabaisse’. Acrylic on canvas, 48x60 in. (Copyright © Marcus Brutus, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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