Bmoreart is honored to share this original film from Shine Creative‘s independent series on inspiring innovators, risk takers, and dreamers, titled Bright. The latest installment features Baltimore’s own award-winning painter Amy Sherald, and explores her life and studio practice.
Amy Sherald’s paintings are immediately arresting, but it’s not just their rich glazes and images of handsome men and women in costume. There’s more to it. Her life-sized portraits glow with an inner light and the eyes have a ‘Mona Lisa’ quality; they solemnly hold your gaze even as you cross the room. Experiencing her work in person is an intensely personal and emotional experience.
When you view several of her paintings together, it is only then that you realize Sherald paints African-American subjects. In her new exhibition, “Amy Sherald: Paintings” at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore. Sherald’s portraits employ a curious color scheme: although the artist deftly applies luscious color throughout, the skin of her subjects remains strangely colorless. Like MacArthur Fellow Kerry James Marshall, Sherald sees the color of skin as a metaphor for her life’s experiences. As an artist with a vision and woman of color, she has a unique and moving story to share.
Sherald grew up in Georgia and was often the only person of color in her class at school. She always studied art, but never saw anyone who looked like her in art history until a middle school field trip to a museum, where she saw a mixed-race family depicted in a contemporary painting. “It was a jaw-dropping moment,” she admits. “Just imagine how different my world would be, if every time I went to a museum I saw someone who looked like me.”
“At this point in my life I am making the images I want to see because I didn’t have them growing up,” she continues. “I want to leave that legacy for the generations that come after me, so that they don’t have to internalize and digest race the way I did.”
Sherald’s desire to leave a legacy was significantly heightened when she turned thirty and was told she had congestive heart failure. After her doctor informed her that her heart could give out at any time, she dove in deeper into her art practice, attempting to put everything she had into each painting, in case it was her last. This passion and determination is palpable in her work; each figure she depicts has a unique sense of presence.
In early 2013, Amy’s heart failed. After two months of waiting for a donor, Amy received a heart transplant and she views her work and her life as a rare gift. Today, her work is evolving and she admits she’s not content to continue along the same path. Sherald plans to include multiple figures and a variety of races in her new work to address relationships, both symbolic and literal. “I want to make paintings that represent my life,” says Sherald. “I want to tell stories for all types of people.”
To see more Bright Documentaries or find out more about ShineCreative, click here.
* Author Cara Ober is the Editor at Bmoreart