Dream & Discover
Discover Amy Sherald, The Boy with the Big Fish, 2016
American painter Amy Sherald’s bold portraits are visually arresting and culturally significant in equal parts. Not only is the Georgia-born, Baltimore-based artist the first woman and first African-American to ever receive the grand prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C, but in 2018 she was selected by First Lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the official commission from that same gallery. While her warm, startling portrait of the First Lady may have shot Sherald to fame, her colourful portraits of anonymous African American figures are equally intriguing.
In each of Sherald’s portraits, a contemporary African American figure fixes their gaze on the viewer, posed against a different wash of colour — a cornflower yellow, crimson red or, as in this case, a textured green. It’s realism through Sherald’s lens, and the simplicity of the canvas at first look belies the subtle nuances that you uncover once you spend more time studying the portrait. Sherald invites the viewer to invest in that viewing time, and in the process, discover hints of the individual’s personality, mood and character in the details of their expression. The portraits in themselves are a radical act, creating a way for African American subjects to occupy space in a format that has traditionally been preserved for the White and privileged.