Amy Sherald speaks in front of two of her works as part of the Artists in Conversation series, 2017; Photo by Emily Haight, NMWA
Sherald, who was born in Columbus, Georgia, remembers being one of only a handful of Black students in the private school she attended. She identifies those early years negotiating issues of race and identity in the American south as major influence on her art.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1997 at Clark-Atlanta University. Concurrent with her studies, Sherald apprenticed with artist-historian Dr. Arturo Lindsay of Spelman College. She also participated in Spelman College’s International Artist-in-Residence program in Portobelo, Panama, in 1997. Two years later she helped organize and install international exhibitions in Central and South America.
Sherald soon relocated to Baltimore and went on to earn her MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she studied with Abstract Expressionist Grace Hartigan. Before Sherald moved to Baltimore, her art had a strongly autobiographical focus. Afterward, she shifted her attention to content that offered a critical view of African American cultural history and the representation of the African American body. In particular, she is known for using a grayscale to paint skin tones as a way of challenging the concept of color-as-race.
The well-traveled artist has done a private study residency with Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum and completed additional residencies in Beijing, China, and Oranjestad, Aruba. Sherald’s works have been exhibited at Art Basel Miami and in group and one-person exhibitions in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Sherald received first prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Sherald painted the official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery in 2018. The artist also received the 2018 David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum Art in Atlanta.
Columbus, Georgia, 1973
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It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind
Amy Sherald’s life-size portraits juxtapose reality and fantasy. The central figure in It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind wears jodhpurs and a jacket—an appropriate uniform for a horseback rider. However, her multicolored helmet and oversized bow seem more playful. Rather than portraying a rider and her horse, Sherald paints her figure holding a children’s toy unicorn.
They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake
Like most contemporary theorists, painter Amy Sherald perceives racial identity as a performance in response to external forces rather than an essential attribute. As one of just a few Black children in her private school in Georgia, she recalls being highly conscious of how she spoke and dressed, believing these behaviors were the key to social acceptance and assimilation. They Call...