Artist Amy Sherald, Who Made Michelle Obama’s Official Portrait, Commemorates Breonna Taylor

Artist Amy Sherald’s latest work honors the life and legacy of the late Breonna Taylor.

Sherald created a commemorative painting of Taylor for the September cover of Vanity Fair that showcases the 26-year-old emergency medical technician in a flowy maxi dress. Inside, the issue includes the culmination of a series of interviews between Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which Palmer remembers her daughter.

Taylor was shot and killed by police on March 13, when they entered her Louisville, Kentucky, home on a no-knock warrant. Sherald—who’s best known for creating former First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait on display at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery—painted the portrait as way to keep Taylor’s memory alive, detailing with Vanity Fair the unique creative process of conceptualizing the commissioned piece.

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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.

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Unlike most of Sherald’s portraits, Taylor was a subject she had never met. And due to her untimely death, Taylor would never be able to sit and pose for Sherald either. Nonetheless, the artist was inspired by the fact that Taylor was an everyday American citizen, who represented countless Black women doing the work to simply survive in today’s United States. The painting also features subtle symbolic details from Taylor’s life, including the engagement ring painted on her left hand, as Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was planning to propose before her murder.

“[Breonna was an] American girl, she is a sister, a daughter, and a hard worker. Those are the kinds of people that I am drawn towards,” said Sherald of her subject. Due to Sherald being immunocompromised, she has been unable to participate in the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests taking place nationwide and considered this art piece to be her contribution to the “moment and to activism.”

“Producing this image keeps Breonna alive forever,” stated Sherald. “I wanted this image to stand as a piece of inspiration to keep fighting for justice for her.”

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