‘It Came Down to What I Could Make at My Kitchen Table’: Amy Sherald on Experimenting With a New Medium for the First Time in Decades

On October 19th, Hauser and Wirth gallery will present a series of five new paintings by artist Amy Sherald in an online exhibition titled “Womanist is to Feminist as Purple is to Lavender.” The title draws from a phrase attributed to Alice Walker and her exploration of “womanist” ideology, which accounted for the intersectional experiences of Black women left out of established feminism, in the anthology titled In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, from 1983.

In these new paintings, Sherald conducts an examination of identity analogous to Walker’s, experimenting with new materials and themes that celebrate femininity, self-awareness, and leisure through the prism of Blackness. In doing so, the artist reveals expressions of Black life that have been historically absent in Black imagery. She presents simple acts of leisure that are not luxuries of privilege or passive pursuits, but essential elements of wellness that remind us of the restorative power of joy.

Amy Sherald approaches social portraiture with an intentionality that is expressed in the unique characteristics of her paintings. Her grey skin tones have become abstractions of blackness that reject social stratifications that underlie racism and colorism. Sherald paints her subjects on solid color backgrounds that accentuate the contrasting shades of their clothing and the lush texture of their natural coifs. Her intentionality extends to the visual parity the artist creates in the leveled gaze between the subject and viewer, asserting her subject’s rightful place in the pantheon of portraiture.

Taken together, these artistic devices subvert narrow social constructs around blackness while maintain the essence of its beauty. Her work has earned her the critical and popular acclaim that led to her 2018 portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama in the National Portrait Gallery and, most recently, a commission for a portrait of Breonna Taylor featured that became Vanity Fair‘s September cover. Hauser and Wirth’s online exhibition precedes a new solo presentation of Amy Sherald’s work set for February 2021 at Hauser and Wirth in Los Angeles.

Recently, Sherald took precious time out of her schedule to reflect on the new work, Breonna Taylor, caregiving, and creating art during the global pandemic with Artnet News contributor Colony Little.

Amy Sherald, Untitled(Detail) (2020). © Amy SheraldCourtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Amy Sherald, Untitled (Detail) (2020). © Amy Sherald, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

The title of this exhibition, “Womanist is to Feminist as Purple is to Lavender” is a nod to Alice Walker’s famous exploration of womanist theory. How did this quote inform your latest series? There are multiple nuanced interpretations of womanist ideology. What does womanism mean to you as a Black woman and an artist?

I was thinking about a title for this show and I came across it after the work was finished. It’s rare that I go into the studio responding to words or with words in my head. But when I am finished with the work, I like to read poetry and books that connect organically to the themes I’m exploring. I extract phrases or piece together different sentences from various readings.

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State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit to challenge House Speaker Michael Madigan for leadership post he’s held for decades

Four-term Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego said Thursday she will challenge longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan for leadership of the chamber when the new General Assembly is seated in January.

Kifowit is one of a handful of House Democrats who have called for Madigan’s resignation since federal prosecutors unveiled a deferred prosecution agreement with Commonwealth Edison in July in which the state’s largest utility admitted to a yearslong bribery scheme aimed at currying favor with the powerful speaker.

A Marine Corps veteran, Kifowit has been in the House since 2013 and is running for reelection unopposed in the November.

Kifowit said in a statement that she called for Madigan to resign “for compromising the integrity of the office and undermining public trust.”

“The response from Michael Madigan was to double down and has remained that way,” Kifowit said. “It is clear to me that he doesn’t hold the same values that I do and falls short of what the public expects from an elected official.”

Kifowit’s decision to challenge Madigan a month before the election puts vulnerable House Democrats and Democratic candidates, particularly in the suburbs, into an even more awkward position leading up to the election—whether to back Madigan or her or someone else.

It is a question many were hoping to wait out until after the election despite repeated attacks by Republicans on the issue. But her run provides new fuel to the issue.

There are also questions about the extent of support for her candidacy. Madigan still holds the power and controls the purse strings in the Democratic caucus and has made loyalty paramount during his decades long tenure as speaker.

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Madigan has not been charged in connection with the ComEd probe and has denied any wrongdoing.

At the request of House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, a special House committee is investigating whether Madigan engaged in “conduct unbecoming to a legislator.” The committee heard testimony from an executive with ComEd parent Exelon this week, but Madigan and other witnesses have declined the invitation to testify.

Madigan has been speaker since 1983, with the exception of two years in the 1990s when Republicans took control of the House. House Democrats have been nearly unanimous in voting for him to remain speaker, with only a few dissents. Most recently, Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville voted “present” in 2019, as did then-Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood in 2017.

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