Marcus Brutus: Interplay of Colors and Connection

The Colors of Connection

Interview by Harper Levine and portrait by Laura June Kirsch

Since Marcus Brutus emerged onto the art scene nearly eighteen months ago, his work has captivated both collectors and institutions. With two solo exhibitions, a monograph titled “The Uhmericans,” and a solo presentation at EXPO Chicago 2019, Brutus has quickly gained recognition for his richly layered paintings. His artworks prominently feature scenes from contemporary African American life and beyond, intentionally placing the black figure at the forefront of his canvases. However, Brutus’s inspiration extends far beyond the history of painting. Drawing from music, photography, literature, sports, and socio-political history, he skillfully weaves together diverse subjects into eloquent narratives that shed light on both real and imagined everyday moments in black life. As a 28-year-old artist hailing from Maryland, currently based in Queens, New York, Brutus sat down with his gallerist, Harper Levine, to discuss his studio practice and motivations.

Exploring Humanity Through Paintings

Brutus’s Approach to Subject Matter

When asked about the subject matter in his paintings, Brutus explains that while he wants to highlight the importance of placing black figures at the center of his works, he prefers not to focus too much on specific histories or events. For him, these paintings represent images of humanity in everyday life rather than being overtly political. Although his work carries political undertones, Brutus wants viewers to recognize them as universal scenes rather than tied to a particular era, such as the Civil Rights movement. By incorporating both contemporary and historical elements in his paintings, Brutus aims to create a continuous narrative that emphasizes the enduring themes and constants within black life.

Brutus’s paintings often feature vibrant green hues, which he views as a color representing the present. Inspired by the bright green seen in crossing guards’ vests or construction sites, Brutus associates this color with newness, signaling that his work is rooted in the contemporary rather than attempting to imitate past eras.

The Cinematic Influence

Drawing from Various Art Forms

Brutus’s work exudes a cinematic quality, incorporating references from literature, jazz, sports, and other art forms. His goal is to highlight ongoing cultural events that may go unnoticed or be deliberately ignored. Reflecting on the Swing generation, for example, Brutus emphasizes that this movement was surrounded by sentiments and connotations that aren’t dissimilar to contemporary pop or hip-hop music. By presenting these diverse images side by side, Brutus aims to demonstrate the interconnectedness of human experiences throughout different eras. While certain elements may change, such as fashion or language, consistent themes underpin these shifting external factors.

When Harper Levine mentions the painting “Ground Zero Heroes,” Brutus clarifies that although it portrays a dark moment in history, he didn’t approach it as a dark painting. His intention was to capture an influential moment while including black figures. By doing so, he challenges the common perception of America as being solely represented by white individuals, reminding viewers that people of color have also experienced collective suffering.

Capturing Black Leisure and Representations

Challenging Racial Stereotypes

In one of his paintings, “Day Time is the Right Time,” Brutus explores the racial undertones associated with being idle as a black individual. He aims to counteract negative assumptions that equate idleness with being unemployed or unmotivated. Through his artwork, he celebrates the concept of black leisure, reclaiming it as a positive and perfectly valid state of being.

Brutus frequently incorporates text within his paintings, inspired by artists like Ed Ruscha. His text serves as both a reference point and a means to engage viewers’ curiosity. By combining figures and text, he enhances the equal marriage between the two elements within his artworks. Each text provides a subtle clue or historical reference that encourages viewers to explore beyond the canvas and delve into the narratives he presents.

The Journey of an Emerging Artist

From Personal Expression to Artistic Recognition

In their conversation, Harper Levine asks Brutus about his early days of sharing his work on Instagram. Brutus explains that initially, he primarily posted his art for personal fulfillment. Sharing his paintings allowed him to officially finish them while showcasing his confidence as an artist. Over time, he developed a detachment from his work, enabling him to share it with others. Now, he finds joy in the process of sharing his creations and witnessing the reactions they evoke.

Brutus’s book, “The Uhmericans,” prompted Antwaun Sargent to pose a crucial question about who gets to be considered American. Brutus’s intention with the book and accompanying exhibition was to challenge the prevailing notion of America through the absence of black individuals. By featuring paintings of Americans exclusively with black faces, he aimed to emphasize the unfairness and imbalance in representation within the art world.

Independence and Artistic Curiosity

Influences, Art History, and Personal Development

In discussing influences on his art, Brutus mentions that he admires certain artists and follows their careers closely, but their work doesn’t inform his journey directly. As an artist who developed his own curriculum, Brutus didn’t extensively study art history in an academic setting. Instead, he relied on personal exploration through books, documentaries, museum visits, and conversations with fellow artists. He sees himself as an artist who has crafted his own path, while still valuing the knowledge gained from established artists. His goal is to continually challenge himself and find new ways to marry representation and abstraction within his work.


Marcus Brutus’s artwork showcases the profound complexity of the black experience, capturing the richness and diversity of everyday life. Through his paintings, he illuminates the significance of placing black figures at the center of creative narratives, challenging long-standing biases in the art world. Brutus’s ability to intertwine different cultural, historical, and artistic references brings a sense of universality to his work. As an emerging artist, he demonstrates the power of personal expression and curiosity in shaping one’s artistic journey. By defying traditional categorizations and embracing his unique perspective, Marcus Brutus is carving a path that resonates with audiences and elevates the importance of representation within the realm of art.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the inspiration behind Marcus Brutus’s richly layered paintings?

Marcus Brutus draws inspiration from various sources, including music, photography, literature, sports, and socio-political history. He skillfully merges these influences to create narratives that reflect both real and imagined moments in black life. His paintings encompass a broad range of subjects, highlighting the multifaceted nature of the human experience.

2. How does Marcus Brutus challenge traditional representations of America in his artwork?

Brutus challenges traditional notions of America by featuring black figures as central subjects in his paintings. He aims to disrupt the predominant narrative that often excludes people of color from the collective American identity. Through his artistic exploration, he emphasizes the importance of representation and questions the imbalance within the art world’s historical perspectives.

3. How does Marcus Brutus incorporate text into his paintings?

Text plays a significant role in Marcus Brutus’s artwork. He draws inspiration from artists like Ed Ruscha, who seamlessly integrate text and images. Brutus explores a more balanced marriage of figures and text in his paintings, providing viewers with reference points and opportunities for further exploration. The texts he includes in his artwork serve as subtle clues or historical references that add depth to the narratives he conveys.

4. What drives Marcus Brutus to share his artwork on platforms like Instagram?

Initially, Marcus Brutus started sharing his artwork on Instagram as a means of personal fulfillment and completion. Over time, he developed a sense of detachment from his creations, allowing him to confidently share them with others. He now finds joy in the process of sharing his work and witnessing the reactions it evokes in viewers.

5. How does Marcus Brutus view his position within the contemporary African American art movement?

Marcus Brutus does not identify himself as specifically part of a particular movement. While he recognizes the influence of successful artists of color who have paved the way for emerging artists like himself, he aims to forge his own path and create a distinct artistic identity. He embraces his unique perspective and considers himself an artist who follows his own trajectory, continuously evolving through personal exploration and self-imposed artistic challenges.