HerStory July 2019: Amy Sherald

July’s HerStory recipient, Amy Sherald, became a household name when she was announced as Michelle Obama’s choice as portrait painter for her official First Lady portrait. Along with the artist tapped to paint Barack, they were the first black artists ever to paint official presidential portraits. Although she’s been painted (see what I did there?) as an overnight success, she’s been a working artist for decades, and has an amazing body of work. 

Sherald’s work focuses on the black experience in America. For the most part, her subjects are the only focal point in her paintings; backgrounds are mostly monochromatic (although some of her newer pieces feature backgrounds that are a part of the story the painting is telling) and it’s the person being painted you are drawn to. She exclusively paints black subjects, often stopping people in the street and asking if she can photograph them for her work, but deemphasizes their skin tone by rendering it grey (in her words, as a “way of challenging the concept of color-as-race”), while choosing bright colors and prints for their clothing and backgrounds. 

Sherald’s style has been described as “magical realism” or “stylized realism,” and she is a portrait artist, first and foremost; no landscapes for her. Her subjects seem to be gazing at the viewer, not smiling, not acquiescing, but merely existing. The result is arresting; most of her subjects look out of the painting, unapologetically themselves, not smiling for the viewer, but they are thoughtful and strong. If you haven’t seen her work, get over to her website (http://www.amysherald.com/) and spend some time looking through her portraits; they are compelling and telling. Strong and empowering.

Our July colorway, Believing in the Good, is inspired by the 2018 portrait entitled She Always Believed in the Good About Those She Loved. In it, a woman gazes out of the portrait with a look of satisfaction on her face. She’s not smiling, nor does she need to be. She wears a dark blue dress liberally sprinkled with lemons (harkening to the seminal Lemonade album by our first HerStory recipient of the year, Beyoncé). She looks like someone you want believing the good about you. It’s a stunning piece, and creating a colorway to pay homage to it was such a fabulous challenge.

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