The African-American artist is releasing her first monumental monograph, coupled with her first and largest solo exhibition in Europe, at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in London. Zoom in.
This native of Columbus, Georgia, has mastered the art of making figurative painting speak for itself in new ways. For the past twenty years, Amy Sherald has been documenting the contemporary African-American experience in the United States. She displaces, subverts, and reexamines the history of photography and portraiture, cultural imagery, notions of race and representation of the body, to better situate black heritage at the center of American art.
In her life’s journey, the portrait artist has also come a long way. At age 30, she was diagnosed with heart failure. There followed eight difficult years until her heart transplant in 2012.
Art and its therapeutic virtues then made their way. In 2016, she was the first to win the National Portrait Gallery competition in Washington, D.C., with Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance), depicting an African-American woman holding a cup of tea.
In 2018, she was chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama to officially paint her portrait. And her career takes off.
Liberating her subjects
Her paintings of ordinary people are intended to be as realistic as they are surreal, confronting psychological effects with stereotypes.
The uniqueness of this former fine arts graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MFA) is her use of grisaille, a cameo of gray, which challenges perceptions of black identity. It was then the persistence of racial inequality in the United States that increased this social justice component in her work.
Today, she is addressing the Western canon, drawing on historical images and themes. An example is her work For love, and for country, on the cover of her monograph. Here she takes Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo, V-J Day in Times Square (1945), and replaces this white sailor kissing a woman with a black male couple.
A desire to redirect attention to “the struggle for queer representation and participation in public space.” Her book traces her work and practice through new portraits and previous works.
The book includes essays by art historian Jenni Sorkin, cultural educator Kevin Quashie, and a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of A Black Anger. Amy Sherald is making her mark on the art scene and on this rising African American art market.
Amy Sherald: The World We Make – Exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Gallery in London
Hauser & Wirth Publishers
Opens October 11, 2022