Amy Sherald was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1973. She received her MFA in Painting from Maryland Institute College of Art (2004), BA in Painting from Clark-Atlanta University (1997), and was a Spelman College International Artistin-Residence in Portobelo, Panama (1997). In 2016, Sherald was the first woman to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition grand prize; an accompanying exhibition, The Outwin 2016, has been on tour since 2016 and will open at the Kemper Museum, in Kansas City, MO in October 2017. She describes her young self as an introvert who took solace in making art, an activity she could enjoy on her own. Her family was supportive, though not involved in the arts. Sherald didn’t go to a museum for the first time until she was in college.
From the time she started kindergarten, when she was one of two or three black children enrolled in her private school, Sherald was well aware of her race ― specifically, how it should and should not be performed. “You’re different from everybody else,” Sherald recalled. “You need to speak a certain way and act a certain way. That’s what my mom told me on the first day of school.” Early on, Sherald absorbed the ability to slip in and out of certain modes of being, like a variety show performer, depending on who she was with and what she wanted to achieve. “In sociology they call it ‘code switching,’” she said. “I can feel just as comfortable in a room full of people who don’t look like me because I understand the social cues of class and race.”
Amy is an award-winning painter who paints large scale oil paintings of people underrepresented in the art historical narrative. Translation: she paints portraits of beautiful ordinary black folk because they’re missing from museum walls and representation matters. She’s much like Kerry James Marshall in this regard, deliberately aiming her art practice at centering black people in her work and painting them in ways that evoke everyday living and everyday leisure. Her portraits lean more on the surreal side and include elements you won’t find in real life. For starters, she ditches a more realistic brownish skin tone color and instead casts all her characters in this beautiful charcoal gray which adds this extraordinary intensity but still feels real and still reads “I’m black.” The vibrant backgrounds, playful outfits, and accessories appear in stark contrast to the stoic expressions. “I’m depicting the many people who existed in history but whose presence was never documented,” Amy Sherald explains.