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In Conversation with Amy Sherald

Posted in Art Market  |  July 20, 2019

In Conversation with Amy Sherald
Amy Sherald explores the ways people construct and perform their identities in response to political, social, and cultural expectations. Her portrait paintings offer a critical view of African-American cultural history and the representation of their body. Known for using a grayscale palette to paint skin tones, Sherald challenges the accepted notions of race and representation. Her subjects are painted against highly-saturated pastel backgrounds that evoke a sense of timeless identity.

Sherald often works from photographs of strangers she encounters on the streets. “When I choose my subjects, I am looking for something that I really don’t have words for. But when I see it, I know that they are exactly the person”, she said. People in her paintings are deliberately posed, dramatically staged, and assertive in gaze. The variations in their gestures, clothing, and expressions reinforce the complex multiplicities of the black men and women she has depicted. “I am creating images that I want to become universal,” she said, so that they can represent something different than just a black body on a canvas, and also change the expectation of viewers in a museum.

Born in 1973 in Columbus, Georgia, Sherald has been influenced by photographs depicting African-American men, women, and children in ways that countered discriminatory representations of the day. She is particularly drawn to the way in which African-American family photographs served as intimate, personal portraits, during a time when only white individuals or groups were being represented in paintings. “I am looking for the same feeling that I got when I was looking at my grand-mother’s photograph. (…) They are so still and the eyes tell you so much more than any animated selfie in 2018 could,” she said.

Sherald is the artist behind the now famous official portrait of Michelle Obama that hangs in the Smithsonian, which was unveiled in 2018 alongside Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of former President Barack Obama. She perceives the portrait of the former First Lady as a “universal archetype”, which “image offers young women and young men a new way of seeing themselves”.