Amy Sherald paints staged narratives and constructed identities, creating portraits of African Americans—most of whom she meets during the course of her day. She deftly represents the features of each sitter with the masterful draughtsmanship of American realism. But she decorates her subjects with fantastical props and costumes: brightly colored pin-striped suits, multi-scooped ice-cream cones, rabbits in hats, giant coffee cups, and cotton candy. A lush, color-field backdrop serves as setting. An obvious care is taken with each portrait: how a prop is chosen, how it is held, the style and fit of clothing, the contrast or complement of colors, the choice of backdrop, or void, with the color intensity of a candied fantasy, and the expression and gesture of the figure. The artist has talked about her artmaking as an act to “image the versions of ourselves that thrive when extricated from the dominant historical narrative.” Her work lends truth and reality to history. “My paintings hold up a mirror to the present and reflect real experiences of blackness today and historically,” she says, “in everyday life and within the historical art canon.”
Amy Sherald is organized for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis by Lisa Melandri, Executive Director.
The exhibition tours to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR (September 1–December 31, 2018) and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta (January 31–May 18, 2019).