Kerry James Marshall is an African-American artist with works that focus on African-American history and culture. His painting “SOB, SOB” was painted on fiberglass with acrylic paint in 2003. This painting reflects the artist’s experience with the civil rights movement and the way in which African-Americans see themselves and are seen by others. Some important aspects of the painting will be analyzed below.
Colors: The colors chosen create a clear contrast between the girl and her surroundings. The pastel tone doesn’t disrupt the attention from the girl and gives a sense of tranquility and safety to the image. The colors on the clothes that are worn by the girl are stronger than those on the rest of the image; it is one of the few times red is used in the painting.
Lines: Lines are the predominant geometrical structure in the image. They create and define the space and dimensions. The lines also create shadows giving perspective beyond the image—although we do not see what is outside the window, we can infer there is sun and this why there are shadows on the stairs, the girl’s body and on the bookcase. The fact that the artist chose to only show a small part of the window is significant since windows tend to represent freedom. While the girl has access to the window and seems to be looking at it, the viewer doesn’t, making it difficult for the viewer to understand beyond what is painted. The window and bookshelf respect the rule of thirds, and while the girl is centered, the position of her hands and feet also respects the rule of thirds. Lines also create a sense of struggle—the way in which the stairs and its shadow surround the girl lead to a prison-like feeling.
Props: According to the American Art Museum, the dependence of the painting on books is linked to Marshall’s intellectual journey as a boy. The books shown represent Africa and the history that has been written about it. The girl sobs, perhaps because of the book in front of her, which reads “Africa since 1413.” The knowledge of what has happened to Africa and how African-Americans were treated brings sorrow. The girl in the image seems to be in a confortable situation but the past of her origins bother her, as it does the painter. The word clouds above the girl are a way of making her feelings ambiguous since it is difficult to read the emotions on her face.