Monday was the unveiling of the official portraits of former President Barack and former First Lady Michelle Obama. And what a moment it was when the artist Amy Sherald and Michelle together pulled down the brown fabric cover to reveal a quite spectacular, yet unexpected portrait. On first seeing it I had to just sit with it for a moment to let the image and its symbolism fully settle in. For although the work reflects not the literal Michelle Obama, Amy perfectly captures the essence of her subject. The 6' x 5' " 'Michelle LeVaughan Robinson Obama" oil on linen, 2018' is also the perfect scale.
In a series of “firsts” - Amy Sherald, along with Kehinde Wiley who painted Barack Obama, are the first African American Artists to paint official portraits of the first African American President and First Lady. Michelle made an inspired choice with Amy whose sensibility is anything but traditional, and Michelle herself is anything but traditional.
I first came across Amy Sherald and her extraordinary portraits of everyday people 3 years ago while visiting one of my favorite gallerists, Monique Meloche at her namesake gallery in Chicago. Monique presides over a highly regarded contemporary art gallery and is known for having her finger on the pulse along with an unerring eye, discovering several of the talented new wave of contemporary artists.
Ms Sherald composes her work on linen in taupe, her interpretation of en grisaille grey, to emphasize the anonymity of her subjects. As Monique explains, Ms Sherald has chosen her subjects for "their ineffable quality of existing in the past, present and future simultaneously."
Addressing the first lady's love of fashion with the cascading gown created by one of her favorite designers Michelle Smith for Milly, Michelle Obama sits in serene repose. The fabric's pattern of abstract architectural shapes, as Sherald commented to New Yorker Magazine's Doreen St Félix reminded her of Mondrian and the diligent quilt making of the black women artisans of Gee's Bend, Alabama.
Historically, much of African American art has centered on figurative painting and distinguished contemporary artists such as Amy Sherald, Kehinde Wiley, who painted Barak Obama's portrait, Kerry James Marshall, Barkley Hendricks, Toyin Odutola, Mickalene Thomas and Henry Taylor among others have brought classic figurative painting into the contemporary realm.
Here's just a small sample of Amy Sherald's other artworks...even the titles are intriguing.
Freeing herself was one thing, taking ownership of that freed self was another
Amy Sherald beside one of my early favorites at Monique Meloche Gallery, 2154 Division Street, Chicago Il 60622 ph 773-252-0299 - website moniquemeloche.com - Fact was she knew more about them than she knew about herself, having never had the map to discover what she was like