In the 283rd episode of his podcast, The Touré Show, music journalist, writer and cultural critic, Touré engages Amy Sherald, the painter credited with creating the famous portrait of Former First Lady Michelle Obama that sits at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.
It takes a great degree of artistic skill to be selected as the choice artist by a First Lady, a huge task and an even greater responsibility to bear in creating a portrait for such a national figure and icon as Michelle Obama.
Touré hosts Amy Sherald on his podcast and engages her about her experience meeting the First Black President of the United States and having the honor of creating the portrait of the first, black, First Lady of the United States placed into her hands.
In a podcast of one hour and a half, Touré and Sherald delve into the art work of the latter, her choice of artistic expression and how it drew Michelle Obama to her, the impact that art has in the life of Amy Sherald and the unique story her work tells about the African American community she chooses to represent.
In 2016, Amy Sherald won the National Portrait Gallery’s Triannual Portrait Award; the Boochever Award and this prize changed her life for the better. The artist admits to Touré that prior to the announcement of she as the winner of the competition,
she struggled to make ends meet, to pay her rent and to even support her artistic work, therefore the prize that came with being winner of that competition was rather timely in helping her get by. However, getting by was only the first of more good fortune that would come from winning the competition.
Soon after she was pronounced winner, she was shortlisted and finally chosen as the choice artist who would prepare the portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. Amy recalls meeting former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama at the White House for a short interview during which they exchanged a funny joke here and there and then later being informed that she had been selected for the task. Elated as she was, Amy says that she is surprisingly good at containing her excitement. Read More : Onionplay
As an artist, Amy is renown for her unique portraits of African Americans. She tells Touré that when someone’s outfit strikes her, whether on the train or on the bus or in the streets, she invites them to her studio and requests to paint or photograph them with due reward.
For Amy, art is an inherent passion and this is clearly expressed in her tone of voice as she responds to Touré’s questions. She takes only one hour to paint her guest subjects as she tries to capture as much raw emotion as she can. Amy’s unique style of painting is easy to pinpoint,
as she is known for painting her African American subjects of art using a grey shade rather than a chocolate brown or dark brown or rather, black color.
During her encounter with Michelle and Barack in the White House at her interview, she expressed that this was her style of painting when she said, “this is how I paint,” and to her delight,
it is what Michelle wanted specifically when she said, ” that’s why I chose you.” Amy explains that grey is her choice shade of color for her portraits of the African Americans she paints because as conceptual art, for her it represents a person of black heritage but whose color does not define them.
Grey is that shade she uses to portray the truth that there is much more to a person besides the color of their skin.
Painting Michelle Obama, Amy was inspired, just as most people are, by the iconic figure that the former First Lady embodies. Michelle is, to Amy, an African American who has proved to be much more than society would expect a black woman to be and so is her husband Barack.
This choice of grey, may not appeal to some viewers of her art, but for Amy, it is her intuitive style and choice of expression. For her it is all about portraying other aspects of the person, more so who they are inside as opposed to what is visible on the outside because as she rightly puts it, ” the interior has no color.”
In her daily life, as an artist, a potentially talented rapper and generally as an American of African American decent herself, she endeavors to be free from societal constructs and categorizations which many times bind us in chains. These constructs are such as race, religion, political ideology and even stereotypes. She envisions a society in which people can all be free to be their intrinsic selves set free from the “exhausting” chains of societal constructs. Amy is unapologetic about the shades she uses for her artistic subjects including the one she applied on Michelle Obama’s portrait because to her it is about painting a person and not their color.
Amy further lets Touré into her personal life, where she was diagnosed with heart failure at the age of 30, but in a rare moment of grace, she managed to receive a heart from a donor who was in her last moments of life after suffering a heroin overdose.
After suffering heart failure almost to a point of death, and then receiving a second chance with a transplanted heart and then moving on to tougher days when it was hard to get by financially and then winning a mega art competition and finally creating an approved portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama, Amy is filled with gratitude and aims to give back to her family and to society in kind and through her art.
The talented 47-year-old artist who greatly resonates with Touré’s biography on ” Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness” (2011) has risen to become a major league portrait painter through the motto ” Keep working” and advises all upcoming portraitists the same. She is delighted to be in love for the first time and enjoys life with her boyfriend, her dog, her octogenarian mother, sister and niece.