with Amy Sherald
A Major Exhibition and Monograph, Amy Sherald’s ‘The World We Make’ Shapes a Hopeful Future Through Monumental Portraiture
In her first major exhibition outside of the U.S., artist Amy Sherald (previously) presents a body of work that’s distinctly American. The World We Make, which is now on view, brings Sherald’s signature grisaille portraiture to Hauser & Wirth London. Monumental in scale and primarily rendered on flat, monochromatic backdrops, the oil paintings reference a sense of determined optimism to shape reality. “The works reflect a desire to record life as I see it and as I feel it. My eyes search for people who are and who have the kind of light that provides the present and the future with hope,” the artist says.
Included in the exhibition is a strikingly subversive interpretation of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s black-and-white photo “V-J Day in Times Square,” which shows a Navy sailor dipping and kissing a woman following Japan’s surrender in WWII. In Sherald’s “For love, and for country,” two men dressed in mariner garb embrace in a similar pose, subverting the iconic image of U.S. victory, while illuminating the inequities that Black, gay men in the military face still today.
Questions of masculinity and American identity pervade the show, particularly in works like “A God Blessed Land (Empire of Dirt),” which positions an overall-clad farmer atop a John Deere tractor. This agricultural equipment echoes the themes of freedom and movement in Sherald’s “Deliverance” diptych that features two figures balancing on their dirt bikes as they perilously soar mid-air. “The tractor and motorbike paintings explore different expressions of self-sovereignty in our communities and how these expressions might carry into the future. Vehicles become a literal metaphor here for forward momentum, for movement, and potential movement,” Sherald says.
Hauser & Wirth Publishers has released the artist’s first comprehensive monograph to coincide with The World We Make, which you can see through December 23. Find more from Sherald on Instagram.
Share this story
Artist Amy Sherald Depicts a Vast Array of Black Leisure through Monumental and Nuanced Portraits
Amy Sherald plumbs the multitudes of Black leisure in The Great American Fact, a series of arresting portraits that are currently on view at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles. From a woman resting on a bicycle to two surfers readying for the water, the oil-based paintings observe moments of respite and pleasure at a monumental scale, sometimes spanning nearly nine feet across.
Although she surrounds her subjects with vivid patches of color and portrays them wearing bright garments, Sherald (previously) continues to render her subjects’ skin in her signature grayscale, which she’s described in recent years as a way to have the figures read “in a universal way, where they could become a part of the mainstream art historical narrative.” This new series also features elements synonymous with American culture, including a white picket fence, Barbie T-shirt, and retro convertible.
The collection’s title draws on the work of Anna Julia Cooper, an educator who in 1892 wrote A Voice From the South by a Black Woman of the South. In the classic Black feminist text, Cooper described Black people as “‘the great American fact’; the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their wits, and at which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence.” This understanding structures Sherald’s work and provides guideposts for considering “public Blackness,” particularly as the Georgia-born artist portrays figures with rich personal lives full of ease, relaxation, and joy. When much of Black life historically has centered around grappling with injustice and social issues, Sherald’s turn inward provides a nuanced view of her subjects.
The five paintings shown here are on view through June 6, and you can find a larger collection of Sherald’s elegantly subversive works on her site and Instagram.
Share this story
Remarkable Portraits by Artist Amy Sherald Render Subjects in Grayscale Against Vibrant Backdrops
Amy Sherald grew up in Columbus, Georgia, which shaped her conceptions of identity and fundamentally influenced her artistic practice. “Acknowledging the performative aspects of race and Southernness, I committed myself to exploring the interiority of Black Americans,” the artist told Smithsonian Magazine in December 2019. “I wanted to create unseen narratives.”
Now living and working in Baltimore, Sherald paints distinctive portraits set against bold, vibrant backdrops. She renders each subject, who stares directly at the viewer, in her signature grayscale. “A Black person on a canvas is automatically read as radical,” she said. “My figures needed to be pushed into the world in a universal way, where they could become a part of the mainstream art historical narrative. I knew I didn’t want it to be about identity alone.”
When considering how Sherald titles her works, it’s not surprising that she reads voraciously: “She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them” is a line from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; Gwendolyn Brooks wrote “She was learning to love moments, to love moments for themselves” in Maud Martha; and “The lesson of the falling leaves” is a Lucille Clifton poem. Each explores the relationship between interiority and exteriority and the experience of Black Americans.
Notably, too, Michelle Obama chose Sherald to paint her official portrait, which was released in 2018. To see more of the artist’s portraits and follow her upcoming projects, head to Instagram.
Share this story
Official Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which was created in 1962 by an Act of Congress, is the only location outside of the White House with a collection of portraits of former United States Presidents. Today, Barack and Michelle Obama unveiled their likenesses, created by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively. The Obamas selected the artists—Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to be commissioned for presidential portraits.
Wiley’s depiction of President Obama features the artist’s signature style of richly-hued background patterns setting a vibrant symbolic environment for the portrait’s subject. President Obama is surrounded by a carefully selected variety of foliage: jasmine, which represents Hawaii; African blue lilies for his father’s Kenyan heritage; and Chicago’s official flower, the chrysanthemum. For Mrs. Obama’s portrait, Sherald engaged her distinctive combination of depicting skin tone in grayscale, offset by the sharply rendered full-color fabric of Mrs. Obama’s floor-length dress.
The Smithsonian shares with Colossal that the portraits will be on view to the public beginning Tuesday, February 13. Wiley’s painting of President Obama will be permanently installed in the Portrait Gallery’s “America’s Presidents” exhibition, and Sherald’s portrait of Mrs. Obama will be displayed in the museum’s “Recent Acquisitions” corridor through November 2018. Sherald also has a solo show at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which opens May 11, 2018.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.