The September issue of Vanity Fair will feature a portrait of Breonna Taylor painted by Amy Sherald, the artist made famous for her painting of former First Lady Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery.
In a behind-the-scenes interview, Sherald discussed her creation of the work.
Taylor is an “American girl, she is a sister, a daughter, and a hard worker. Those are the kinds of people that I am drawn towards,” says Sherald, who is immunosuppressed and has been unable to participate in protests. She calls this portrait a contribution to the “moment and to activism — producing this image keeps Breonna alive forever.”
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Presenting Breonna Taylor for Vanity Fair’s September issue, “The Great Fire.” Five months have passed since police killed Breonna Taylor in her own home, a violent crime that our September issue guest editor Ta-Nehisi Coates ascribes to a belief in Black people as a disaster, as calamity. “I don’t know how else to comprehend the jackboots bashing in Breonna Taylor’s door and spraying her home with bullets, except the belief that they were fighting some Great Fire—demonic, unnatural, inhuman.” Coates chose the “The Great Fire” as the theme for the issue, which assembles activists, artists, and writers to offer a portrait of hope in a world where the possibility of a legitimate anti-racist majority is emerging for the first time in American history. “Something is happening,” writes @tanehisipcoates, “and I think to understand it, we must better understand the nature of this Great Fire.” For his cover story, Coates tells Breonna’s story through the words of her mother. Also in the issue: an oral history of the historic days after George Floyd’s death; a portfolio of creatives and visionaries who capture the spirit—and urgency—of the moment; director @ava DuVernay’s conversation with revolutionary Angela Davis; and much more. Read “The Great Fire” at the link in bio now. Painting by Amy Sherald (@asherald).
Vanity Fair wrote that Sherald usually begins her work by taking pictures of her subject. As she had never met Taylor, who was killed by Louisville, Kentucky police on March 13, she found a model of similar physical attributes. Sherald said that she studied photographs of the slain young woman’s hairstyles and fashion choices.
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Breonna Taylor is an “American girl, she is a sister, a daughter and a hard worker,” says Amy Sherald (@asherald), who, for over 20 years, has been putting the narratives of Black families and people to canvas. “Those are the kinds of people that I am drawn towards.” Sherald—who painted Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery in 2018—took extraordinary care in reimagining Breonna, drawing inspiration from things she learned about the 26 year old: that she had been a front-line worker in the fight against COVID-19; that her boyfriend had been about to propose marriage; that she was self-possessed, brave, loving, loved. Those heartbreaking details appear in the painting, from the gold cross on a chain necklace to the engagement ring she would never get to wear. “I made this portrait for her family,” Sherald says. “Producing this image keeps Breonna alive forever.” At the link in bio, Sherald explains the elements of the painting—the blue hue, her subject’s strong pose—that conjure the details and stories of Breonna’s full life. Photograph by Joseph Hyde. Interview by @milesapope.
She also drew inspiration from other aspects of Taylor’s life, including her job as a frontline worker (Emergency Medical Technician), and the fact that her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had been planning to propose to her. Sherald said that she learned about other attributes about Taylor, who was “self-possessed, brave, loving, and loved.”
In the painting, Taylor is dressed in a light blue crepe dress designed by Jasmine Elder of JIBRI, an Atlanta-based fashion designer. The dress was inspired by one worn by actress Danielle Brooks, of Orange Is the New Black.
Sherald said that she found herself speaking to Taylor. “Breonna, what color do you want this dress to be? Please, tell me what color you want this dress to be,’” Sherald says she mused.
The blue that Sherald chose reflects Taylor’s birthstone, aquamarine.
The September issue is being guest-edited by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It will explore art, activism, and power in 21st century America.
The Vanity Fair cover marks the second September magazine dedicated to Breonna Taylor. As theGrio reported last month, Oprah Winfrey‘s O Magazine unveiled its September cover issue featuring Taylor. It marked the first time in the magazine’s 20-year history that Winfrey did not appear on the cover.
In a column entitled, “Why Oprah Gave Up Her Cover for the First Time Ever to Honor Breonna Taylor” Winfrey explains her historic decision, which was made right before the publication ends its print run at the end of the year and moves to digital-only.
“She was just like me. She was just like you. And like everyone who dies unexpectedly, she had plans. Plans for a future filled with responsibility and work and friends and laughter,” Winfrey said.
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