"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."

Open Book: Bo Lauder and Artist Marcus Leslie Singleton Host Art Discussion

Ashley Tripp // Senior Associate Director of Communications
Marcus Leslie Singleton is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work explores the joy, intimacy and hardships of Black America. Singleton’s practice offers critiques of contemporary social and political issues, using art as an “nonverbal communication” to portray the lived experiences of the Black community, weaving together their hopefulness and soul with his playful brushstrokes. He has exhibited his work at galleries and art fairs in New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle. 

In honor of Black History Month, Bo, in collaboration with CPEJ and the Black Culture Club, hosted a lunchtime art discussion with Singleton. The artist began the session with a review of Love Letter To The Dogon ll, a pair of limited edition prints that reside in the Upper School Commons. While printmaking is an aberration for Singleton, he wanted to make his available “to people who weren’t necessarily in the art world” and may not be in the market for or able to afford one-of-a-kind works. These pieces are a colorful narrative on the indigenous peoples native to the central plateau region of Mali in West Africa. The prints were made available in 4 colorways, each purposefully chosen to enhance his subjects’ skin tones and calling attention to the religious symbolism and scientific elements in his work. Singleton also tends to use “words in paintings to expose a deeper layer. It’s painting with a reference to writing.”

“I’m a slow painter. I like to do my research,” he explains. What makes art interesting is “a good opening sentence that can grab someone's attention.” His colorful figurative paintings are much like reading a book. He distills and simplifies single moments of life—waiting for a text, playing the trumpet, going to a child’s birthday party, buying a lotto ticket—but with a vibrant spirit that aims to celebrate Black life that so often is overlooked or misunderstood. 

Singleton appeared as an open book—literally—when he passed his private notes around to his audience when discussing his process. His notebooks are a collection of everything from historical references to sketches of lunches with friends and they are often the foundation of his work. He encouraged budding artists in the room to carry their own notebooks with them at all times to help develop their personal narratives, pointing out that inspiration can take hold anywhere. His humble beginnings meant painting on found objects and scrap wood where he found “poetry in the negative spaces.”

Bo also presented a fascinating and compelling sampling of the work of Black artists across many decades. He began with a “lush” still life by Haitian realist painter Philippe Auguste before moving on to Small Anxious Man by Friends parent, Rashid Johnson, who Bo describes as “one of the most respected painters in the world.” Singleton agreed, adding that Rashid’s work artfully “explores the experiences of Black men in America without being overt.” 

“Rashid Johnson is a generous supporter of the School and has donated his work to our annual Benefits in the past,” Bo explained. “Making art is an act of giving,” Singleton said with a smile. “It’s cultural value. It starts with wanting to give beauty to the world.”
Friends Seminary actively promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism in all its programs and operations, including admissions, financial aid, hiring, and all facets of the educational experience. To form a community which strives to reflect the world’s diversity, we do not discriminate on the basis of race or color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, economic background, physical ability, sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. Friends Seminary is an equal opportunity employer.

222 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
P: 212-979-5030
F: 212.979.5034
Friends Seminary — the oldest continuously operated, coeducational school in NYC — serves college-bound day students in Kindergarten-Grade 12.