Baltimore Artist Amy Sherald Unveils The Modern Portrait Of First Lady Michelle Obama

Andrew HarnikAP Images

Today the official portraits of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were unveiled at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery. Baltimore artist Amy Sherald painted a modern portrait of Michelle Obama which will certainly stand out amongst the traditional dark oil paintings of former first ladies with a pale blue background and what Sherald calls “grayscale” skin tone which absents the topic of race from the portrait. Mrs. Obama chose Sherald from a pool of several notable artists. Also revealed at the ceremony with the portrait of President Barack Obama by artist Kehinde Wiley.

Michelle Obama Chose Amy Sherald To Paint Her Portrait

It’s hardly a shock that Michelle Obama didn’t go the traditional route for her official portrait by Amy Sherald to hang in the National Portrait Gallery in the nation’s capital. Mrs. Obama left a unique imprint on the White House during her eight years as the first lady. Michelle Obama also chose gowns and dresses that went against what first ladies had worn before, and always appeared stylish at official events.

At the last State Dinner for the Italian Prime Minister, Michelle Obama wore a gorgeous modern gown by Versace, according to the Washington Post.

“Michelle Obama made a grand entrance wearing a floor-length, rose gold chainmail gown designed by Atelier Versace on the North Portico.”

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Sherald Paints Her Portraits To Tell A Story About The Subject

According to the Baltimore Sun, artist Amy Sherald used her trademark “grayscale” for Michelle Obama’s skin tone, charcoal with taupe undertones “that doesn’t so much erase her subject’s race as declare its irrelevance.” The gown that Michelle Obama is wearing has geometric designs that look like an ode to French artist Piet Mondrian.

At the event this morning to unveil the paintings, artist Amy Sherald introduced Michelle Obama and the portrait to an audience that included guests Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. Sherald gave Michelle Obama a warm introduction.

“Mrs. Obama, you are omnipresent. You exist in our minds and hearts because we can see ourselves in you.”

The portraits painted by both Sherald and Wiley are being called “artistically bold” by critics who believe that the portraits and styles of the artist are complementary, and while both portraits are modern, they call out styles of the past.

Baltimore artist Amy Sherald says she wants to tell stories with her paintings.

“I paint American people, and I tell American stories through the paintings I create. Once my paintings are complete, the model no longer lives in the painting as themselves. I see something bigger, more symbolic, an archetype.”

While Michelle Obama gushed about Sherald’s talent, President Barack Obama wanted to thank Amy Sherald for capturing his wife on canvas.

“Amy, I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace, beauty, intelligence, charm and hotness of the woman I love.”

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Michelle Obama Says She Had An Instant Connection With Sherald

Michelle Obama introduced artist Amy Sherald, explaining that her reputation and talent preceded her before she came for an interview to the White House in the Oval Office. Mrs. Obama said that they had an instant “sista-girl” connection with Sherald.

“I was intrigued before she walked into the room. I had seen the work and was blown away by the boldness of her colors and the uniqueness of her subject matter. And then she walked in, and she was flying and poised. She had this lightness and freshness of personality.”

Michelle Obama also said that the portrait painted by Amy Sherald will serve to inspire young girls of color who will visit the National Portrait Gallery, perhaps on a school field trip.

“I’m also thinking of girls of color who in the years ahead will come to this place and who will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”

Amy Sherald was born in Georgia but received her MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and now makes Baltimore her home. On her website are several other portraits painted by Sherald.