Amy Sherald is renowned for her simplified realist paintings depicting Black Americans in everyday settings, seemingly posing for the artist, looking to camera. Her work highlights how black men, women and families have for too long been excluded from traditional social portraiture and the American narrative.
In her latest series, The Great American Fact, Amy builds on her effort to "paint the things I wish to see" with five new works that feature subjects as "symbolic tools that shift perceptions of who we are as Americans, while transforming the walls of museum galleries and the canon of art history – American art history, to be more specific".
The new paintings reference an 1892 essay by educator Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, who wrote that black people are "the great American fact'; the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their wits, and at which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence". Sherald used this statement as a framework for considering 'public Blackness' – the way Black American identity is shaped in the public realm.
Her series involves staged photographs of her subjects enjoying various leisure activities, like cycling or surfing. Much like her earlier work, she uses grisaille to portray skin tones, something she says aims to "challenge conventions about skin colour and race".
Each person's identity is revealed only through visual cues and objects familiar to contemporary American life, for instance, the Barbie logo, denim, surfboards, a picket fence, and – in one case – a convertible. It's all to "reinforce their inseparable connection to the nation's historical and cultural fabric, and to reconstruct conceived notions and reinforce the multiplicities of Black American life".
Currently on show at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, The Great American Fact follows Sherald's 2019 New York exhibition, 'the heart of the matter...' and her 2020 portrait of Breonna Taylor for Vanity Fair.
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., and in February 2018, the museum unveiled her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama. Discover more at amysherald.com.