Former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) and artist Amy Sherald unveil her portrait during a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

She immortalized our former forever first lady for the National Portrait Gallery, and now, portraitist Amy Sherald is getting a very special tribute from the school where she honed her craft. On Jan. 31, the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art will present “Amy Sherald,” an exhibition organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) as the final stop on a national tour of Sherald’s work.

Though Sherald attended Clark Atlanta University, she took painting classes at nearby Spelman, apprenticing under art history professor Dr. Arturo Lindsay and becoming part of Spelman’s International Artist-in-Residence program in Panama. “For this reason, this exhibition is a homecoming of sorts,” Spelman proclaimed in a press release.


Spelman will also have the distinct honor of premiering two of Sherald’s most recent works, which she has completed since the exhibition opened at CAM in May of this year.

“It is a privilege and an honor to present ‘Amy Sherald’ and share an exclusive selection of her extraordinary, vibrant, sometimes fantastical portraits,” said Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., director of the Spelman Museum. “This exhibition, which provides a deep and rich sense of her artistic practice, is in perfect alignment with our mission to inspire and enrich the Spelman College community and the general public through art by women of the African Diaspora.”

The defining characteristic of Sherald’s work is the elevation of the everyday. She chooses her subjects from commonplace interactions, photographing them as they are, and reproducing their likeness in grayscale on a monochrome colored background, evocative of classical styles that were heavily employed during the Italian Renaissance. (Sherald also studied with Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum, according to Spelman’s release.)


In this way, the portrait of Mrs. Obama that she unveiled in February 2018 was actually a departure from her normal subjects, as she re-envisioned one of the world’s most recognizable women—while quietly reaffirming Obama’s status as a woman of the people.

“My paintings hold up a mirror to the present and reflect real experiences of blackness today and historically, in everyday life and within the historical art canon,” Sherald said.


“Amy Sherald” will be on display at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, from Jan. 31 through May 18, 2019.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.

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