Amy Sherald has painted the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama. Her work has appeared in Smithsonian galleries and on the sides of buildings. Now, the Baltimore artist has painted a striking portrait of Breonna Taylor for the cover of the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair.
Taylor, 26, was killed in March by police who raided her Kentucky home with a no-knock warrant. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a gun at police, believing it was a break-in. The officers involved have not been criminally charged.
Taylor, who was Black, has become an icon of the social justice movement, as protests over police brutality against Black people spread throughout the country.
Another digital portrait of Taylor recently graced the cover of O: The Oprah Magazine. In July, artists painted a 7,000-square-foot mural of her on the basketball courts at Chamber’s Park in Annapolis.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Sherald said, “painting someone posthumously, I wanted it to feel ethereal but grounded at the same time.” She invoked Taylor’s spirit during the creative process, imagining what the young woman would have wanted to wear, even asking: “Breonna, what color do you want this dress to be? Please, tell me what color you want this dress to be.”
Sherald depicts the emergency room technician in her trademark grayscale technique and dressed in an ocean blue gown. She wears a cross around her neck and an engagement ring on her left hand. Her boyfriend had been planning to propose.
Taylor appears self-possessed and confident, her hand on her hip and glimpses of her leg appearing through slits in her dress.
“Once my paintings are complete, the models no longer live in the paintings as themselves,” Sherald told The Baltimore Sun after the unveiling of her portrait of Obama. “I see something bigger in them, something more symbolic, an archetype. I paint things I want to see.”
The Vanity Fair issue was guest edited by another Baltimore native, Ta-Nehisi Coates. He interviewed Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, about her daughter’s life and death.
Neither Coates nor Sherald could be reached for comment.