4 Questions with Amy Sherald

Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald (b. 1973) spoke with attendees at NMWA’s eighth Artists in Conversation program earlier this year. Designed as an intimate in-gallery discussion, Artists in Conversation offer visitors the opportunity to explore the museum and engage with artists and their works in the galleries. Sherald discussed her background, artistic process, and works featured in the museum, eliciting questions from program participants.

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

How did you first develop your signature backgrounds?

“I was trying to work my way through some ideas, and I actually tried to destroy a painting. I poured turpentine all over it and I just left it on the floor. I came back the next day and there were parts of it that had this speckling effect that I really liked. It’s important that these figures don’t exist in a space or time. I feel like the backgrounds work for that—they exist in a liminal space.”

Can you talk about the way you portray skin color?

“In graduate school I was creating self-portraits. . . . I painted people in different colors. One was black, one was a raw sienna, and one was a yellow ochre. It was a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people. The gray was an under color and I decided to leave it. Mars black and Naples yellow make these beautiful skin tones. . . . Each [figure] is a different color because each background is a different color. Green comes through, blue comes through, pink comes through. It just worked.”

What was it like studying with Grace Hartigan?

“She was a great role model—especially the stories she would tell about what her life was like as a woman trying to be an artist, working with [Jackson] Pollock and [Willem] de Kooning, and the tension that was there…the way they would put her down sometimes. All those things were learning experiences.”

Amy Sherald speaks to Artists in Conversation program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald speaks to program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Would you ever consider making smaller works?

“I really love drawing with charcoal…so, yes, I have. But then when I think about the work being in a museum. For me, the bigger the better because I want to take up that space and…I don’t want anyone visiting the museum and wondering if there was an Amy Sherald in there. I want them to know it was an Amy Sherald.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Go Figure! Amy Sherald at NMWA

“These are my favorites,” said Amy Sherald, gesturing to two of her paintings on view in NMWA’s collection galleries. “It was a relief to walk in here and see these. There’s absolutely nothing that I would fix because I had all the time in the world.” After winning first prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for the National Portrait Gallery, the Baltimore-based artist keeps a busy schedule. During an Artists in Conversation program at NMWA on May 9, Sherald shared her sources of inspiration and what she hopes viewers will take away from her work.

Amy Sherald at NMWA

Amy Sherald at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake (2009) relates to Sherald’s life in Columbus, Georgia. “Once I moved to Baltimore I realized no one called me a ‘redbone,’” explained Sherald. “If you don’t know what a ‘redbone’ is…it refers to someone who is supposed to be of Native American, African, and European descent. So, in the South it was very race conscious. . . . My basketball coach called me ‘redbone,’ which I really didn’t mind. And then there were other people who I didn’t know who called me ‘redbone’…and I didn’t like it so much.”

Sherald explained her personal connection to the subject of It Made Sense…Mostly in Her Mind (2011), portraying a horseback rider holding a children’s toy unicorn. “I went to an equestrian riding camp when I was an adolescent,” said Sherald, who later developed the idea for the painting after seeing her friend’s mother do dressage. Sherald asked her friend, Christina, to model for the painting because she embodied the sophistication Sherald wanted to capture.

Both paintings are displayed on the same gallery wall as Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937). “Frida Kahlo was one of my inspirations,” said Sherald. “When I changed my major from pre-med to painting, I had these ideas of painting a lot of the same things she did. I was talking to my art teacher Arturo Lindsay and he said, ‘look up Frida Kahlo.’” Sherald added, “I’m honored, to say the least.”

When discussing the impact of her paintings, Sherald told attendees, “I received emails from all kinds of people that see themselves in this work, and that’s really important too.” Sherald noted, “When you walk through a space like [the museum] you don’t always see this [gesturing to the figures in her paintings]. For me, this became really important, interjecting images of the underrepresented in the dominant circle narrative and making work that I felt would resonate in a way that art history can’t be told without it. . . . I consider myself an American Realist, maybe with a post-modern flare.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Amy Sherald

Impress your friends with five fast facts about painter Amy Sherald (b. 1973), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

1. Figure It Out

Sherald’s fascination with portraiture began at a young age when she explored art history through encyclopedias. Enthralled by the illustrations, she came to the conclusion that a great artist has the ability to expertly render the human form.

2. Make It Big

Sherald first visited a museum on a sixth grade field trip, and she still remembers the impact of seeing Bo Bartlett’s 10-by-14-foot Object Permanence (1986). This work sparked her desire to create large-scale figurative paintings.

3. Do What You Love

The daughter of a dentist, Sherald entered Clark-Atlanta University as a pre-med student, but her passion for painting was too strong to ignore. She switched majors in the middle of her junior year and began to focus on her art in earnest.

4. Model Behavior

The model featured in They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake (2009), in NMWA’s collection, also appears in another of work by Sherald, Well Prepared and Maladjusted (2008). According to the artist, “[The model] was tall and different looking, and she had this really awesome Afro bouff.”

5. Herstory

In 2016, Sherald became the first woman to win the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for her work Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance) (2013).

Want to meet the artist? Join us on May 9, 2017 for a special Artists in Conversation program featuring Amy Sherald. Reserve your spot online!

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: October 21, 2016

Ava DuVernay’s new documentary 13th explores how the U.S. became the country with the world’s largest prison population—and why a disproportional number of those prisoners are black.

The film borrows its title from the 13th amendment to the constitution, which outlawed slavery but left a loophole. NPR calls it the film a “searing, opinionated interpretation of American history.” The Guardian writes that DuVernay leans on “eloquent talking-head interviews and well-sourced archive material” to study the links between slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration.

Front-Page Femmes

Victoria and Albert Museum curator Sonnet Stanfill discusses gender imbalance in art museum leadership. NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling adds that “women still have a long road ahead of them to gain gender parity in the museum world.”

NO MAN’S LAND artist Anicka Yi received the 2016 Hugo Boss Prize for innovative and influential work in the contemporary art world.

2016 MacArthur Fellow Kellie Jones says, “A lot of women artists don’t get any recognition…their early years are really their 50s or 60s.”

NMWA artist Amy Sherald talks to Baltimore Magazine about her education, heart failure, and professional success.

Yoko Ono unveiled her first permanent art installation in the U.S.

Hyperallergic writes, “Decades before other artists, [Florine] Stettheimer depicted a number of challenging subjects that remain controversial and relevant today.”

Artist Nidaa Badwan created a photo series chronicling 20 months she spent in self-imposed quarantine during the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Madame Tussauds in Hong Kong will open a Yayoi Kusama “artistic themed zone.

British artist Lucy Sparrow created bodies of work that consist of more than 4,000 items made entirely of felt.

Japanese paper artist Chie Hitotsuyama creates textured sculptures of animals using rolled strips of wet newspaper.

Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will feature NO MAN’S LAND artist Isa Genzken’s I love Michael Asher.

Photographer Beth Moon documents the world’s oldest trees in her new book Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees.

A new animated biopic offers insight into Hokusai’s work through the life of his daughter, an artist in Edo-era Japan.

Six female artists, including NO MAN’S LAND painter Elizabeth Peyton, discuss Bob Dylan’s influence.

Actress Kathleen Turner discusses The Year of Magical Thinking, a play based on Joan Didion’s 2005 memoir.

Shows We Want to See

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen hosts Louise Bourgeois. The Structure of Existence: The Cells, showcasing 25 of the artist’s powerful installations. Referred to as “cells” by Bourgeois, each work “is an independent spatial unit filled with carefully arranged objects which create different scenarios.”

Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s at The Photographers’ Gallery features the work of 45 female artists from across the world, including Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman, and Hannah Wilke.

Grandma Moses: American Modern is on view at the Shelburne Museum. Hyperallergic writes, “The Grandma Moses story reads a lot like an artist’s fairy tale.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: July 8, 2016

The Huffington Post features NMWA artist Amy Sherald’s paintings. Sherald portrays her subjects with charcoal-gray hues against vibrantly colored backgrounds.

Sherald says, “These paintings originated as a creation of a fairytale, illustrating an alternate existence in response to a dominant narrative of black history.”

Front-Page Femmes

The Huffington Post celebrated the anniversary of Frida Kahlo’s birth with the artist’s own words of wisdom.

Rebecca Louise Law hangs over 8,000 flowers in The Beauty of Decay and plans to re-purpose the deteriorated flowers.

Shirley Tse describes her sculptures, gems for eyes, carving Styrofoam, and Oscar Wilde.

Martha Rosler explores gentrification and homelessness in the exhibition If you can’t afford to live here, mo-o-ove!!

Through knitting and crochet, street artist Julia Riordan creates rainbow-colored installations around Stockholm.

At Fort Tilden in Queens, Katharina Grosse painted a cinderblock building damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

Valeria Napoleone displays works from her private collection of contemporary art by women for the first time.

MK Guth curates an experience for two friends to sit, drink whiskey, and read a poem by Charles Baudelaire aloud.

The Art of Romaine Brooks highlights the work and life of a long-marginalized early 20th-century artist.

ARTnews goes behind-the-scenes of Lili Bernard’s Los Angeles studio.

Hyperallergic highlights Melanie Manchot’s two-part video installation shot in the Swiss Alpine valley of Engleberg.

A new solo exhibition for Vanessa Bell—Virginia Woolf’s sister—explores the talent of the pioneering British artist.

After 50 years of choreographing, Twyla Tharp reflects on her career.

Actress Noel Neill, known for her role as Lois Lane in The Adventures of Superman, died at the age of 95.

Mexican artist Mare Avertencia Lirika tries to redefine rap with feminist messages.

Bustle highlights 19 women-led bands to listen to.

Slate calls Dorthe Nors’s twinned novellas, So Much for that Winter, “a stunning meditation on female art-making.”

Though trained as a visual artist, Cammisa Buerhaus and her musical work involving a “sculptural pipe organ” defy easy categorization.

Shows We Want to See

NMWA artist Patricia Piccinini presents surreal sculptures, drawings and a video work in San Francisco. The artist explores themes including of genetic variation and modification, the natural versus the unnatural, and love and parenthood.

Carmen Herrera’s paintings of brightly colored geometric paintings will be on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in September. Herrera, now 101-years-old, sold her first work late in life—at age 89.

Katherine Joseph—Every Minute Counts on view at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education presents a vision of Roosevelt-Era social and political culture through the lens of photojournalist Katherine Joseph.

Janelle Iglesias’s installation at the University of Colorado Art Museum “draws corollaries between selections from the CU Museum of Natural History, the university’s greenhouse, and the art museum’s permanent collection.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.