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Inside Amy Sherald's First Major Solo Museum Show

  • Photo of the artist by Justin T. Gellerson
June 30, 2018
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via this email: andreja.velimirovic@widewalls.ch

The most recent series of paintings by Amy Sherald is the subject of the ongoing show at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

Although Sherald’s work started out as highly autobiographical in nature, her portraits slowly took on a strong social context since she moved to Baltimore, Maryland – something that’s quite evident in the displayed works in St. Louis.

Making it even more intriguing and “landmark-ish” is the fact this event is the artist’s first ever major solo museum exhibition.

Varsity Girl / A clear unspoken granted magic
Left: Amy Sherald – Varsity Girl, 2016. Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 inches. Collection of Nancy and David Frej. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago / Right: Amy Sherald – A clear unspoken granted magic, 2017. Oil on canvas, 54 × 43 inches. Collection of Denise and Gary Gardner. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago

Work After the Obama Portrait

Following her recent commission to paint the official portrait of the First Lady Michelle Obama, Amy Sherald made a significant shift in her subject matter.

Her main focus now is the everyday encounters with African Americans during the routines of her day. Naturally, Amy Sherald is quite excited about the prospects of the new creative direction in her art:

My paintings hold up a mirror to the present and reflect real experiences of blackness today and historically, in everyday life and within the historical art canon.

Whether the subject of her portrait is a famous or a largely unknown figure, Sherald’s practice always highlights the power of a black person’s image, rendering a unique transformative vision of African Americans nearly unprecedented in contemporary art.

The Bathers
Amy Sherald – The Bathers, 2015. Oil on canvas, 72 x 67 inches. Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago

Portraits of African Americans

Arranged with attention within CAM’s Front Room gallery, the displayed portraits both stage narratives and construct identities. This is in no small part a result of Sherald’s unique draftsmanship abilities – she renders her subjects with the deft skill of American Realism, but is also fond of embellishing them with fantastical props and colorful costumes.

This is where the artist gets most of its unique gleam, so to speak. An evident care is taken with each portrait as she carefully plans out how a prop is held, how contrasting the colors of the clothing are, how they fit with the subject’s skin-tone and the background hues, etc.

Mother and Child / What’s precious inside of him does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence (All American)
Left: Amy Sherald – Mother and Child, 2016. Oil on canvas, 53 x 43 inches. Collection of Dr. Anita Blanchard and Martin Nesbitt. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago / Right: Amy Sherald – What’s precious inside of him does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence (All American), 2017. Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 inches. Private collection. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago

Amy Sherald Solo Exhibition at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

By slowly developing her skill and working hard on finding a unique visual style that fits her creative intentions, Amy Sherald makes versions of ourselves that thrive when extricated from the dominant historical narrative. This, among more than a few other things, make the ongoing show something you really do not want to miss if you’re in a position to see it first-hand.

The artist’s latest batch of portraits is on view until the 19th of August 2018 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in St. Louis, Missouri.

Featured image: Amy Sherald, Photo of the artist by Justin T. Gellerson. All images courtesy of Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.