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Frank Ocean Releases New Track, Honors Kerry James Marshall With Album Art

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Kerry James Marshall's painting and Frank Ocean's album art. (Photo by Annie Lloyd/LAist)
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Frank Ocean dropped two versions of a new track this weekend called Lens. In one version he sings it solo, and the other version features Travis Scott. Ocean premiered the track on his new "blonded RADIO" show on Beats 1. After many years of seclusion before dropping Blonde, Ocean has now been releasing new music at a frequent pace. The past few weeks have seen new tracks Biking and Chanel, as well as his feature on Calvin Harris' Slide.

The song itself isn't the only notable aspect of Frank Ocean's Sunday release. The cover art for Lens shows a black silhouette of Ocean's face, with stark white writing of "Lens" replacing a nose, eye, and ear, as well as a blindingly white open grin with one missing front tooth. The face is superimposed over an illustration of a sea of poppies (superbloom, anyone?) beneath a bright blue sky. The art calls into mind Kerry James Marshall's piece A Portrait Of The Artist As A Shadow Of His Former Self. The painting is currently on display at MOCA Grand as part of Mastry, the retrospective on Kerry James Marshall. It features a similarly silhouetted black man with the unmissable presence of piercing white eyes and teeth. Marshall made the painting right after his graduation from Otis College of Art and Design here in L.A., recalling Ralph Ellison's description of how America renders black people invisible in his novel Invisible Man. Marshall has dedicated himself to incorporating black history and art into canonized Western styles and works, and this painting provides insight both into the way America has seen black people and the way black people see themselves.

In Lens, Frank Ocean takes a look at himself to reckon with a life spent navigating sexuality in the public sphere. It's a portrait of the artist looking at the shadow of his former self, and wondering if there's any way to reflect how he really feels.

Frank Ocean was born in Long Beach and Kerry James Marshall grew up in South Central Los Angeles. They both reckon with image and the dichotomy of public and private life for black Americans, as well as the narratives American forces onto the life of black men. It makes perfect sense that Ocean would choose to recall Marshall's art with his new music release.

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Mastry is on display until July 3, 2017. MOCA Grand is located at 250 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012.