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Viewers Get a Closer Glimpse into the ‘Our Town’ Painting Through VR Technology

Kerry James Marshall creates paintings where observing the details are critical. “Our Town“, a 1995 painting by the artist, showcases the scene of a 1950s neighbourhood. It contains visuals of a young boy riding his bike on a line along with his sister, and a dog. In the painting, one can see their mother in the distance, as she waves in from a suburban home’s walkway.

Looking into the painting in greater detail, one can see bright sun rays bringing in the sense of American idealism, along with the birds flying in the sky. Some other details in the painting by Marshall include trees decorated with yellow ribbons, and a group of homes in the proximity of each other, across the residence of the family in the painting.

“Our Town”, the painting, was acquired by The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark, in 2009. The museum has created a VR video recently, which immerses viewers into the minute details of the painting. As they step inside the virtual reality experience, the array of interesting elements are enlivened, and the layers can be viewed with more precision. The narrator of the VR video explained that the painting is reminiscent of 1950s sitcoms and close to the 1938 conventional American family portrayal of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’. This is also the work from which Marshall derived inspiration for naming his painting.

The narrator continued, saying that the otherwise-evident visual cheerfulness of the painting is less evident, as one comes across the yellow ribbons encasing the trees. It portrays that the family shown in the painting has a member serving in the family, and are anticipating his homecoming. On a closer look, overlaid painted areas and collage on the left portion of the painted canvas, and the gloomy glances fo the children at the viewer, dim the spirit of suburban celebration.

The painting belongs to The Garden Project series by Marshall. For this series of paintings, he had envisioned European pastures. He blended the rustic settings with those of African American families who resided in public housing. Growing up at a public housing community in Nickerson Gardens, Los Angeles, he had left accounts regarding the appeal of such homes back then.

During the 2016 “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” press preview, Marshall had explained that the projects in the 1960s were peaceful living areas, and places people would like to be in. It was an exhibition dedicated to him in MCA Chicago. Marshall had pointed out how normal the communities were, considering how the country’s government had set those up for families with low income. He also highlighted that residents were quite proud of keeping their lawns looking presentable.

The Garden Project paintings were created in the mid-1990s when Marshall was living close to Wentworth Gardens and Stateway Gardens, two of the city’s housing projects. Most of the paintings in this series directly uphold the projects and even have signs of different communities.

“Our Town” is currently displayed at the modern art section of the museum. But concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic has given relevance to its immersive VR experience.

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