When I first saw Amy Sherald’s paintings, I immediately loved them for their bold, graphic quality and quirkiness. But it wasn’t until I took a closer look that I realized that these were more than just eccentric portraits.
Sherald chooses to paint the skin tones of her African American figures, not their normal beautiful brown tones, but dull grays. In doing so, she uses her choice of paint color to comment on the push for African Americans to “fit in” with white society.
Having been one of only a few African Americans in a predominately white private school in the South, Sherald draws ( literally ) on her experience of trying to maintain her racial identity while feeling the need to put on certain white characteristics in order to be socially accepted among her peers. This “performance” aspect is depicted in her work but the appearance of characters, costumes, masks, etc.
You can see in these works, a sense of the frustration and futility of denying your true self to fit in. How often do we pick up our own mask or put on our own costume, when we are afraid of being rejected for who we truly are?
Check out Amy Sherald’s website for more images of her work and be sure to read her insightful artist statement.