THE ARTIST who painted former first lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait — you may recognize Amy Sherald from TV news broadcasts or the internet— is also the 2018 recipient of the High Museum of Arts’ David C. Driskell Prize, which recognizes contributions to African-American art.
Sherald, a Georgia native who works and lives in Baltimore, is known for her creative, distinctive portraits of men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. Her prize comes with a $25,000 cash award and a celebratory April 27 dinner at the High Museum. The dinner supports the David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisition Fund, which was founded in 2005. Since then, it has generated enough money to help the museum acquire 48 pieces by African-American artists.
Sherald, 44, was born in Columbus and trained in Atlanta, earning a bachelor of arts degree from Clark Atlanta University. She studied in Panama through a Spelman College International Artist-in-Residence program, completed a residency in Norway and earned a master’s degree in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her work began to gain national attention in 2011, when the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., acquired one of her paintings. It has two of her works on display now — “Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake” (2009) and “It Made Sense … Mostly in Her Mind” (2011).
In 2016, Sherald was the first woman to win the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for her 2014 painting “Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance).” An accompanying exhibition, The Outwin 2016, has been on tour since and opens this summer (June 1-Aug. 26) at the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The New York Times called Sherald one of “19 Artists to Watch” in 2017.
Artists, curators, teachers, collectors and art historians nationwide nominate artists for the Driskell Prize. Sherald was chosen by a review committee comprising Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, the 2013 Driskell Prize winner and director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art; Valerie Cassel Oliver, the 2011 Driskell Prize winner and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond; and Michael Rooks, the High’s Wieland Family curator of modern and contemporary art.
David Driskell, the prize’s namesake, is a practicing artist and an African-American art scholar with a career that has lasted more than four decades. Driskell, who is 86 and was born in Eatonton, grew up in North Carolina and is an emeritus professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. The school named a center for art and scholarly study in his name.
The High’s relationship with Driskell began in 2000, when it presented the concurrent exhibitions To Conserve a Legacy: American Art From Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Narratives of African-American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection, which examined African-American art in the historical context of modern and contemporary art.