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Amy Sherald
Womanist is to Feminist as Purple is to Lavender

‘Womanist is to Feminist as Purple is to Lavender,’ comprises of five new small-scale portraits made by Amy Sherald over the course of the pandemic. Taking as its title a widely cited statement by celebrated novelist, poet, and activist Alice Walker, this presentation finds Sherald returning to the medium of gouache for the first time since she was a child, with results that reaffirm the inherent radicality of both her vision and technique.

In their handling of the delicate pigment and signature use of grisaille to depict skin tone, the works in ‘Womanist is to Feminist as Purple is to Lavender’ demonstrate that experimentation with paint itself lies at the heart of Sherald’s artistic enterprise.

Each work on view is merely 11 by 7 inches in size. Yet these portrayals of Black women at ease achieve the authority of landmarks in the long tradition of social portraiture – a tradition that for too long excluded the Black men, women, and families whose lives have been inextricable from the grand narrative of American experience.

Untitled

Amy Sherald
2020
Gouache on paper
27.9 x 19.1 cm / 11 x 7 1/2 in

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Untitled

Amy Sherald
2020
Gouache on paper
38.1 x 55.8 cm / 15 x 22 in

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With their direct and confident regard of the viewer and their colorful accoutrement of leisure, Sherald’s subjects take their place in the cavalcade of sitters whose likenesses have served American painterly innovation and cultural documentation from the pre-Revolutionary era up to today. But as a Black woman painter of fellow citizens in the 21st century, she succeeds uniquely in expanding the chronicle.

Untitled

Amy Sherald
2020
Gouache on paper
27.9 x 19.1 cm / 11 x 7 1/2 in

View work

Untitled

Amy Sherald
2020
Gouache on paper
27.9 x 19.1 cm / 11 x 7 1/2 in

View work

These are less portraits of women than of a state of centeredness, relaxation, and security.

Sherald’s subjects in ‘Womanist is to Feminist as Purple is to Lavender’ are highly individualistic and yet anonymous, each a composite of photographs found online and from within the artist’s imagination. In one painting on view, the barefoot sitter wears a vibrant yellow polka dot dress as she sits upon her bicycle. In another work, the central figure leans congenially against the back of a bright orange armchair, legs crossed and arms relaxed. While their clothing situates them in contemporary culture, Sherald’s subjects become timeless: the grisaille of their faces and the white backgrounds against which they are shown, protect their privacy and mystery. The viewer is thus required to meet the artist’s subjects actively, and to ‘negotiate’ their own conceived notions of Black American life.

Untitled

Amy Sherald
2020
Gouache on paper
27.9 x 19.1 cm / 11 x 7 1/2 in

View work

About the artist

Born in 1973 in Columbus, GA, Amy Sherald documents contemporary African-American experience in the United States through arresting, otherworldly portraits. Sherald was the first woman and first African-American ever to receive first prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.; in February 2018, the museum unveiled her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama. In August 2020, Sherald was commissioned to create a portrait of Breonna Taylor for the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.

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