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A headshot of Amy Sherald. She is wearing white-framed glasses and a tan sweater. She is looking directly at the camera with a thoughtful expression.

Season 2: Episode 8

Amy Sherald

Maori chats with renowned painter Amy Sherald, who documents contemporary Black American experiences through otherworldly figurative paintings. Amy talks about what life was like for her growing up in a small Southern city and her process of self-exploration and honing her craft. They discuss the nuances of her artistic practice, career trajectory, and what life has been like since the release of her portrait of Michelle Obama. They also explore a question we all want to know – when is Amy going to paint a portrait of Maori?

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A headshot of Amy Sherald. She is wearing white-framed glasses and a tan sweater. She is looking directly at the camera with a thoughtful expression.
Born in Columbus, Georgia, and now based in the New York City area, Amy Sherald documents contemporary African American experience in the United States through arresting, otherworldly figurative paintings. Sherald engages with the history of photography and portraiture, inviting viewers to participate in a more complex debate about accepted notions of race and representation, and to situate Black heritage centrally in American art.
Sherald received her MFA in painting from Maryland Institute College of Art and BA in painting from Clark-Atlanta University. Sherald was the first woman and first African-American to ever receive the grand prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.; she also received the 2017 Anonymous Was A Woman award and the 2019 Smithsonian Ingenuity Award. In 2018, Sherald was selected by First Lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait as an official commission for the National Portrait Gallery. Sherald’s work is held in public collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, MA; the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; Embassy of the United States, Dakar, Senegal; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC; Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; and Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC.


Season 2 of Many Lumens is brought to you by Open Society Foundations. 

Produced by BlackStar Projects, in partnership with RowHome Productions.

Host and Executive Producer: Maori Karmael Holmes

Producer: Alex Lewis and Dallas Taylor

Associate Producers: Irit Reinheimer and Farrah Rahaman

Managing Producer: Alex Lewis

Executive Editor: John Myers

Music supervisor: David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams, BlackStar’s Music in Cinema Fellow supported by the Pop Culture Collaborative


  • Theme song composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams.
  • Aeon – “Lounge Lizard”

[00:00:00] Maori Karmael Holmes:  As part of their enduring commitment to justice, equity, and expression, the Open Society Foundations are proud to sponsor Many Lumens. 

You’re listening to Many Lumens, where we talk about and find meaning in the intersections of art, social change, and popular culture. I’m your host, Maori Karmael Holmes. 

For this episode, I’m joined by renowned painter, Amy Sherald. Born in Columbus, Georgia, and now based in the New York City area, Amy documents contemporary African American experiences through arresting other worldly figurative paintings. Amy was the first woman and first African American to ever receive the grand prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. In 2018, she was selected by Michelle Obama to paint her portrait as an official commission for the National Portrait Gallery. Amy’s work is held in public collections, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, and many, many more. Amy talks about what life was like for her growing up in a small Southern city and her process of self-exploration and honing her craft. We delve into the nuances of her artistic practice, her career trajectory, what life has been like since finding success, and finally, what we all want to know. When is Amy going to paint my portrait?

[00:01:35] Maori Karmael Holmes: I have been so wrong about a lot of people in my life. There are friends that I had, who I swore were children of doctors and they were not. I think about who I thought you were when we met and I did not think you were the child of a doctor when we were in our Arabic class. You were bald, pierced. It was the first thing from my mind, but you’re like a real life Huxtable. I just wanted you to share a little bit about your family and where you came from.

[00:02:03] Amy Sherald: I was born in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Dr. Amos Percy Sherald III and Geraldine Sherald, who’s born in Mobile, Mobile, Alabama. My dad was a dentist and one of the first Black dentists in Columbus. Our family history there was that we had the oldest Black-owned business in the city, and that was a barbershop named Sherald’s Barbershop that opened in 1898. Yeah. We were, I guess, for all intents and purposes, I guess like the Cosby show, except my dad was disabled from Parkinson’s disease, so he was only able to practice for like seven years. But we grew up in a Black neighborhood. They wanted to make sure that we were surrounded by people that looked like us, because we were going to private schools and one of maybe two or three Black kids in the school, or in that particular class, but for the most part in school. Yeah. I grew up going to his office after school. His uncle had a mortuary right next door to the dental office and I would go in there and wait for bodies to jump, or hook around at people’s faces while they’re being embalmed. Other than that, I had a pretty idyllic childhood. Being that both of my parents were born in the 1930s and 40s and had nothing but Jesus to get life right, I feel like they did a pretty good job.

[00:03:43] Maori Karmael Holmes: Amy, a question that I have is, what led to this, I call it a trap goth phase for you? It’s like a mix of both. What were you searching for?

[00:03:56] Amy Sherald: When I shaved my head and did all that stuff?

[00:04:00] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:04:01]Amy Sherald: I needed to express myself. I had been under my parents’ control for all of my life. You know what I mean? My mom was making decisions for us. She made decisions about what we wore, what we were going to eat, what time we went to bed. I mean, everything. There was a part of me that wanted to escape that identity of being a doctor’s daughter. Because you’re in a small city and everybody knows who you are, I always felt like I had to put on and just be a certain way in public because there were these expectations. My mom would say, “Don’t be uncouth.” But I think that’s also what I thought an artist was. I think at that time, I was obsessed with Courtney Love or the grunge scene. I feel like when I found that scene, I found my tribe of people at that point in my life. I think it was just because I hadn’t had the opportunity to ever really express myself and express my personality. Then I got there and I started to see people that were fully formed into all of this coolness and I just decided to join.

[00:05:15] Maori Karmael Holmes: Do you know what your parents wanted for your future, what they thought you were going to grow up to do?

[00:05:20] Amy Sherald: They wanted me to be a doctor. My dad wanted me to take over his practice. I’m not going to say I wasn’t smart enough, but I definitely was scientifically challenged. But ideally, it would be a brain surgeon or something like that, which had I stuck to it, I’d be poor. I would be poor, I guess, because at this point, I make more money than a brain surgeon, so I’m glad I stuck my guns.

[00:05:46] Maori Karmael Holmes: Subtle flex. That’s awesome. Can you talk about your relationship with your mom today?

[00:05:53] Amy Sherald: It’s pretty amazing. She’s a cool lady. She’s 85. We get to have fun now. She’s a bit of a lush. If you’re eating something or drinking something, she’s like a don’t-mind-if-I-do kind of lady. I would say we’re a lot alike personality wise. We’re get-it-done type of people, and I think I learned that from her. I learned how to take care of people from her. We just have fun now. I took her shopping a couple weeks ago, got her some new clothes, got her some tortoiseshell glasses and in my opinion, changed her life. Because she went from granny to I don’t know, whatever we call a hot lady that’s 85. She’s cool. I’d say she looks like she belongs to me now, and get out of those Target jogging suits with embroidery on the chest, some random embroidery like gold or something. She’s cute, and she was always a fashion person. I had Jet magazines of her in the magazine, volunteering for SNCC or something. She would have on this super cute outfit and her hair would be in waves. She was a little hot mama when she was growing up.

[00:07:15] Maori Karmael Holmes: Now that you are really, really famous, who do you lean on for guidance and to keep you grounded?

[00:07:23] Amy Sherald: I lean on my partner, my life partner, Kevin. You want their names?

[00:07:26 ] Maori Karmael Holmes: No. No, it’s up to you.

[00:07:27] Amy Sherald: I lean on Deborah Roberts, I lean on Jordan Casteel, I lean on Zöe Charlton, and they’re all female painters. We’re all artists, I think. The majority of the things that could go awry in our lives now would be connected to our career. But there’s probably Calida [Rawles]. Calida, I’ve known since Spellman. I’m probably forgetting somebody, but that’s my emergency phone call people. When you’re feeling insecure, you’re like, “Oh, this painting’s stupid,” or you know what I mean, I can send them a picture of something I’m working on and be like, “What do you think about this?” And they can get my mind back on track.

[00:08:14] Maori Karmael Holmes: I want to move into talking about your artistic practice. I wanted to ask you about how you settled on painting portraits, as opposed to doing something more abstract and non-figurative.

[00:08:29] Amy Sherald: Life, I guess. I think growing up, that’s all I really thought art was, because that’s all I really saw. I didn’t know who Andy Warhol was and I didn’t know who Jackson Pollock was. I really didn’t know who anybody was because my parents weren’t into the arts in that way. My dad was into jazz and my mom, they would go see plays and stuff. But looking back, I think I’m drawn to people and I’m saying that as an introvert. When I say I’m drawn to people, I mean I like to look at them, but I don’t want to interact. I think it’s just fascinating. I’m just fascinated with faces and I’m fascinated with the human body. When I didn’t think that I was going to be able to make enough money to be an artist, I thought was going to be a medical illustrator. I remember thinking like, wow, they make like $55,000 a year. That’s a lot of money. I think that’s why, but it was just a natural attraction. Maybe if I was born in another decade, it wouldn’t be like that, but that’s the way it was for me as a ’70s baby.

[00:09:39] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. I was thinking, I found some old photos that I have of you from Atlanta, that are this previous style that you had, I guess, coming out of undergrad, where you painted these-

[00:09:54] Amy Sherald: Oh, Lord. Uh-uh. It was so bad.

[00:09:55] Maori Karmael Holmes: It wasn’t bad, but a lot of these figures looked like you, and so I was curious. In this, the current style that you’re painting in, have you considered doing a self-portrait?

[00:10:06] Amy Sherald: I have. I just don’t know. What’s holding me back is I don’t know what to wear, because so much of my work is about the clothes. I don’t know what I want to wear and how I want to present myself to the world. That’s what’s holding me back. But I think at some point in the next two years, I will probably do a self-portrait and I’ll call you to pick out my outfit. How about that?

[00:10:34] Maori Karmael Holmes: That’s a deal.

[00:10:36] Amy Sherald: Perfect.

[00:10:38] Maori Karmael Holmes: What is the uniform of the moment?

[00:10:41] Amy Sherald: Overalls.

[00:10:42] Maori Karmael Holmes: Okay.

[00:10:43 ] Amy Sherald: But not just any overalls.

[00:10:44] Maori Karmael Holmes: Of course not.

[00:10:46] Amy Sherald: Khloé Kardashian, Good American overalls.

[00:10:49] Maori Karmael Holmes: Oh, do you like her stuff?

[00:10:51] Amy Sherald: Yes. Because I’m tall and all of her stuff is high-wasted and it fits me perfectly.

[00:10:56] Maori Karmael Holmes: Interesting. Okay.

[00:10:58] Amy Sherald: I know. When I first started purchasing from Good American, I didn’t know it was her brand. I didn’t, and then somebody was like, “What? You’re buying Good American?” I’m like, “What’s wrong with?” She said, “It’s Khloé Kardashian.” But then I’m still like, “So, what’s wrong with that?” But they’re great. That’s my uniform right now; white T-shirt and some Denim overalls.

[00:11:22] Maori Karmael Holmes: Oh, I need to finish this visual. What do you have on your feet?

[00:11:26] Amy Sherald: I have a compression sock on one leg and I’m barefoot on the other.

[00:11:33] Maori Karmael Holmes: Well, that ruined the look.

[00:11:37] Amy Sherald: But without this, how I arrived was with some brown and cream cow print, Brother Vellies Birkenstock. They’re not Birkenstocks, but they’re like the slide in Birkenstock. But with the cover toe, like a mule.

[00:11:54] Maori Karmael Holmes: Oh, those sound adorable.

[00:11:55] Amy Sherald: Yeah. They’re very cute.

[00:11:59] Maori Karmael Holmes: Is there anyone you’re dreaming to have sit for you?

[00:12:02] Amy Sherald: It was Cicely Tyson, and I asked her by way of a second degree connection. She was like, “Why?” Then she wanted me to write her a letter why, and then I got busy getting ready for a show. Now, she’s no longer with us. Rest in peace. Sometimes I look at Samuel Jackson and I want to paint Samuel Jackson.

[00:12:26] Maori Karmael Holmes: Ooh.

[00:12:27] Amy Sherald: Yeah. He’s the only person that’s stayed afloat all these years that if I had the opportunity, I would paint him as a character.

[00:12:44] Maori Karmael Holmes: One of the things that people have talked about that is really beautiful about your work is that it’s thinking about the Epic Banal of Black life. You have been, I think, exclusively portraying Black people, and if that’s correct, I was curious if you think you’ll ever paint non-Black folks.

[00:13:03] Amy Sherald: No, I won’t. But yes, I have. I painted my wonderful friend Valeska, and she’s the only white person I’ve ever painted. But she’s so worthy of it because she’s an amazing woman. But I don’t foresee myself doing that because I don’t think it’s necessary. Because when I’m looking at my paintings, I’m looking at myself. You know what I mean? There’s a connection there. I had it when I was painting her. I don’t know. But my work? It’s not the focus. I feel like I will be doing the culture a disservice. Not just the painting of a person that wasn’t Black, but just because sometimes I think about these different scenarios and I wonder through paintings of different ethnicities. Because at one point, I photographed my friend, Jennifer, who is Chinese, but I never ended up painting her. I’ve had the inclination, but I don’t have the narrative, so I didn’t move forward with it.

[00:14:18] Maori Karmael Holmes: Well, speaking of narrative, I also wanted to ask you about the naming convention. In a lot of your works, you’re referencing primarily Black and Asian writers or philosophers in the titles, and just curious where this practice developed.

[00:14:34] Amy Sherald: You read these books by these geniuses, like Gwendolyn Brooks and Lucille Clifton, and I feel like sometimes I’ll look at my paintings and I think they’re a direct illustration of the moment that they were giving us in the poem. It just worked out. I would just be reading it for the sake of reading it and I would read a line, and I’m like, “Wow, that would make a great title.” It wouldn’t be a whole line necessarily, but just maybe a part of a line or something like that. Then I would add something to it or tweak it a little bit. But I relished in the connection that the present was having with the past, and it was just a way for me to draw this linear line from me straight to them and carry them with me.

[00:15:29] Maori Karmael Holmes: Do you collect them, write them down and collect titles?

[00:15:35] Amy Sherald: I do. Whenever I come across one, I do write it down because sometimes I do think of the title before the painting. I see something and I’m like that’s a great title for a painting. I haven’t made the painting yet, but I’m going to save it. I do have a collection of little tidbits that I can reflect on when I’m trying to come up with something.

[00:15:55] Maori Karmael Holmes: Pivoting just slightly, I was thinking about how tough it is to make a career in the art world, and you stuck it out for a really long time, longer than most people have the strength for. Was just curious, what kept you going? Why were you so confident that you had something special? Where did that confidence come from, if you know?

[00:16:19] Amy Sherald: I don’t know if it was confidence or just the right amount of denial that everything is going to be okay. I literally left myself no other option. It’s like either I fail at this or I make it happen. I had to make it happen because I didn’t have a plan B.

[00:16:43] Maori Karmael Holmes: You didn’t have a set point either when you would decide to move on?

[00:16:47] Amy Sherald: No, I wasn’t ever, I don’t think. Because every time I thought maybe it’s time, something else would happen, and I never really seriously thought it was time. I would just go into deep manifestation mode and try to create what I needed. But it was tough because the older you get, the more you’re like, this isn’t cute anymore. It’s like your friends are like, “Poor Amy. She’s waiting tables, and she’s 39 years old and she’s just a waitress. She thinks she’s going to be an artist. But at 39 years old?” You know what I mean? I’m sure those kind of conversations were happening, but I knew. I don’t know. But then I have a deep knowing. I think we all had the answers, all the answers that we need. They say that it’s like you have all the answers that you need, and I did have a deep knowing that I was moving towards my destiny.

[00:17:51] Maori Karmael Holmes: How has your practice shifted now that you have been successful?

[00:17:55] Amy Sherald: Not much, because I made a deliberate decision for it not to. Really, the only thing that changed is, I don’t have to make my own stretches anymore. I hired an extra assistant. That’s it. I’m making bigger paintings now because I’m in a bigger space. But as far as my production in general, I only want to make eight to 10 paintings every year-and-a-half, every two years. I’m a slow painter, but I’m not prolific in that way because I like to take my time. I like to be with the work sometimes without working on it. But honestly, not a lot has changed because like I said, I didn’t want it to.

[00:18:40] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. No, I respect that and I can’t imagine how hard that is at the same time, just witnessing it from the outside. Because I also know there’s that moment where people around you change, even if you’re trying not to.

[00:18:54] Amy Sherald: Yeah. I doubled down on all the friends, like yourself, that I’ve known for over 20 years. I was like, no new friends, these are my friends. If I haven’t known you for more than 10 years, then sorry. You know what I mean? I got to that place, because those are the people that you know no matter what. You don’t talk to them all the time, but you know they’re going to show up when you need them. They’re the people that are always going to tell you when you look stupid and tell you when you’re great, and you can believe them. I think that’s the first thing I did was clean house a little bit and claim those people, and hold onto those people, and surround myself with them, as in my circle.

[00:19:44] Maori Karmael Holmes: Is there room for magic in your art making?

[00:19:48] Amy Sherald: Absolutely. I guess that’s why I don’t really plan my shoots. That’s the one thing that I can allow to be organic, that I don’t purposely control is planning poses or anything like that. I think the magic happens within a second or two and then you get your shot and you know that’s your shot. I think it’s magic. What I consider magic is the energy transfer between the model and myself, and then myself and the canvas. There’s something that happens there energetically I guess, that I can’t really put my finger on. There is magic in the production of imagery. I do feel that when I’m making a painting. I feel like I’m not alone in the process. You know what I mean? When my antennas go up and I see something that I want to pour myself into and create, I feel like there’s a force out there that’s guiding me and connecting me to the right people to make this work. I’m drawn to a specific type of person. They’re a little bit asymmetrical and a little bit worn. They have a weight to their spirit in a way.

[00:21:14] Maori Karmael Holmes: Well, this explains why you haven’t painted me yet because my face is perfectly symmetrical, and I’m as light as a feather. No, I’m just kidding. I’m totally kidding.

[00:21:23] Amy Sherald: That’s hilarious.

[00:21:26] Maori Karmael Holmes: I was asking the question because I think about, in film and theater, I’ve heard and experienced these otherworldly metaphysical occurrences in production, and heard about them with musicians as well, and so I was curious. I personally had the experience of editing half awake and not remembering what I did, and then coming back to something brilliant. I wasn’t sure if you’ve ever had that experience. Have you been painting in a fever dream or not remembering a particular stroke, and then been like, “Ah, that was perfect”?

[00:22:02] Amy Sherald: No, I haven’t. But I had moments early on. I was already in Baltimore and I was already out of grad school, and I was searching for the work that I was going to make. Came up with these ideas, which became this body of work that I have now. But I would have these moments where I would feel a flash of my future. It sounds crazy. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it was like a curtain was open briefly and then it would close. Then I would see it and I would feel this, be overcome with emotion and joy and happiness, just like a deep gratitude. I don’t know. That’s also what kept me going is because I would have these instances of … I don’t even know. I always say my brother, who is no longer with us on this planet, maybe he’s telling me something. I remember one time, when I was applying to go to Maryland Institute College of Art because you told me about it, I got interviewed and I thought I had made it in, but I made it in this first alternate fix. So somebody had to decide not to go to the program. I remember getting that news and walking into the bathroom in my apartment and looking in the mirror. Then I heard a voice that wasn’t my voice that said, “Everything’s going to be okay.” But it was a deep voice, so I thought it was maybe my dad, because he had recently passed within a couple of months. But those are the kind of magical moments that have really carried me the days that I wanted to just quit my life and just be a greeter at Walmart. It was those moments that really kept me waking up and just pushing forward. As in I’m like, there’s something out there. If I can’t believe in myself today, then whatever that was is believing in me right now for me.

[00:24:17] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. My last question of this section is just to ask you, is film in your future? Think about Steve McQueen and of course, Warhol. I know you love Wes Anderson. I’m wondering if you’ve thought about making a film yourself.

[00:24:35] Amy Sherald: I have, but I am not confident enough to do it yet. I think I’m not sure if it’s going to be stupid, so I’m just not going to do it. But at some point, if it makes sense, I would like to do it. I just know film is really expensive. At the time that I did have the balls to do it, I was talking to somebody about a budget and they were like, “You need to vote $30,000.” I’m like, “Well, that’s not going to happen right now,” because that’s a low budget. But just short films though, not necessarily a movie, but just a short film, like five minutes short. A film short. Not a short film, a film short.

[00:25:22] Midroll: Seen is a journal of film and visual culture focused on Black, Brown and Indigenous communities globally. With essays, reviews, interviews and more from critics, artists, and other luminaries of color, it’s the publication Harper’s Bazaar calls “a must-read for anyone with a serious film interest”. Subscribe at

[00:25:49] Maori Karmael Holmes: You’re listening to Many Lumens. Now, back to my conversation with Amy Sherald.

[00:25:55] Maori Karmael Holmes: I want to talk a little bit about education. You just brought up MICA. But I want to go back just a little bit and ask you, what made you choose Clark Atlanta? It’s not a school that I think of as being known for their visual art program, but I know you met some impactful mentors there, like Arturo Lindsay. I was just curious if you could talk about why you chose it, and about your time in Atlanta and how it shaped your work.

[00:26:20] Amy Sherald: I was just trying to get away from my mama. I was like, I just want to get out of Columbus, Georgia. I had friends at Clark, so I was like, I’m just going to go to Clark, and it was as simple as that. But little did I know I was walking into my destiny, even though I was making a half-ass decision about my life. But it turned out to be the right decision because I did meet Arturo Lindsay, who was my painting instructor. He did have a great influence over my life and gave me a lot of direction, and great advice and mentorship. He was the first living artist that I ever met, so it was enthralling to see that and to work for him, and help him assist him in making his work and putting it out in the world. I was able to live vicariously through him and through those opportunities, I started to come into my own as a painter and a thinker.

[00:27:37] Maori Karmael Holmes: What about just Atlanta at the time, when I think about the mid to late ’90s and the intersection of hotep and hip-hop?

[00:27:44] Amy Sherald: You know in hotep, not Tampa.

[00:27:48] Maori Karmael Holmes: Exactly.

[00:27:52] Amy Sherald: I was a bouncer during that time. That’s when the Olympics came, right?

[00:27:57] Maori Karmael Holmes: Mm-hmm.

[00:27:57] Amy Sherald: Atlanta was amazing then. It was Club Kaya. It was Yin Yang. It was like a special place. I feel like when I talk about life in Atlanta at that time, I sound like I’m namedropping, but I’m literally just talking about a regular day where you pay $8 to go to Club Velvet and you’re standing next to Biggie Smalls before he gets up on stage to perform, and there’s like 40 people there. You know what I mean? It was just the coolest city. It’s very different now. I don’t relate to it in the same way, but it was an amazing time. I don’t know. The people that I met there at that time, working at the rim shop, that was crazy.

[00:28:45] Maori Karmael Holmes: This was Erick Sermon’s rim shop, right?

[00:28:48] Amy Sherald: Right. That was a whole thing, and being introduced to that world was interesting to say the least. I don’t want to get into it because there’s a lot of good stuff and a lot of bad stuff. Yeah. Atlanta was giving everybody life, even the drag scene, going to Loretta’s and watching drag shows, and grateful for the waitresses at the IHOP that will give us free food because we were in there every day, like three times a day and we didn’t have any money. Everybody was just in their element, doing their thing, living their best life and it was no big deal. You know what I mean? It was a cool time.

[00:29:42] Maori Karmael Holmes: I want to ask what made you to choose MICA for grad school.

[00:29:46] Amy Sherald: You did, Maori.

[00:29:48] Maori Karmael Holmes: I didn’t make you choose it. I told you about it.

[00:29:55] Amy Sherald: You did make me choose it. You were like, “This is what you need to do. Listen to me. I’m a Taurian and I know what you need.” Then I’m like, “Yes, ma’am,” and applied and I ended up going to MICA. I would’ve never ended up there. I don’t know where I would’ve ended up, but MICA was the perfect suggestion.

[00:30:20] Maori Karmael Holmes: But what was attractive to you about it?

[00:30:25] Amy Sherald: Maori, my life has been so half-assed. What was attractive to me about it was the fact that the deadline was March 1st and not January. I needed time to make the work to get into the school. That’s the funny part. It’s like I didn’t even try a lot. I wanted to be an artist, but I was just like la, la, la, la, la, moving through my life. Do, do, do, do, do. I’m going to go to Micah. You know what I mean? Just ignorance is bliss, because I would’ve never applied there. Had I seen the work of the artists that were there, I would’ve never applied, but I’m like, I’m the bomb and I’m going to go to grad school. But it was that random. But we’re all guided by something, so it all worked out in the end.

[00:31:22] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. How did being in school and doing an MFA transform your practice?

[00:31:29] Amy Sherald: It’s really when I got in touch with my intellectual acumen and being introduced to philosophy and things like that, that I somehow missed in college. My father had recently passed and trying to recommit myself to Christianity at the age of 30, and then being like, this is not working for me. Discovering Nietzsche and I was really into just opening up books and deep diving into so much information. I was voracious. I think I heard you say this, maybe, either you or Zadie Smith, but, “The more words you have, the bigger your ability to be able to dissect things in life.” To me, that’s part of my creative process. I don’t start a painting with words, but I fill my brain up with all this stuff and somehow, it finds its way and it starts to make sense, and it finds its way into the work.

[00:32:45] Maori Karmael Holmes: I don’t know if that was that, but I love that you think it was.

[00:32:50] Amy Sherald: Yeah, it was. I think it was you, because you were talking about going back to school.

[00:32:56] Maori Karmael Holmes: Mm. Okay.

[00:32:57] Amy Sherald: You wanted to go back for a degree and you said something about not needing more words, but you just wanted more words. You know what I mean? You wanted to learn more. But I might be making that up. Who knows?

[00:33:14] Maori Karmael Holmes: It’s possible. It’s so possible. Can you talk about how Baltimore, being there, what impact that had on you?

[00:33:26] Amy Sherald: It was my introduction to myself; my first time living outside of Georgia, my first time not living in a city that had a lot of Black wealth. All of that coupled with going to grad school, I just really grew up really fast and I think it really made me into a fully formed human, discovering all the things that I didn’t know. I think that’s what I became aware of when I went to grad school. It’s like, wow, there’s a lot I don’t know. It’s just a real city. It’s gritty, it’s wonderful, and it fed me energetically, and so many faces there. I still go back to Baltimore to look for some of my models because there’s just something. There’s just something there that I like, that I’m able to draw from. Yeah. Yeah. That’s pretty much … That’s it.

[00:34:31] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. I know you love food. You worked in restaurants for a long time and you’re responsible for some of my own exploits. I remember running over to Soul Veg after class, but I feel like we’ve definitely talked about food in almost every conversation we’ve ever had. I was curious if you’ve been exploring much in COVID times. Or have you been cooking?

[00:34:55] Amy Sherald: We were cooking and then we were in Atlanta, and then we moved back. We came back up to New York when it opened up. Then we were so tired of cooking, we hired somebody to come for us. But the one thing I’m obsessed with now is collard greens. I eat a pot of collard greens every week and I have for almost eight months, and I’m never tired of it.

[00:35:24] Maori Karmael Holmes: I know you’re also an avid exerciser. I don’t even know if that’s the right word, but I know it’s another consistent thing that you talk about in the ways that I talk about astrology. I was curious where that impulse for athletics and exercise comes from.

[00:35:42] Amy Sherald: Jack LaLanne and Richard Simmons. I was always up early and there was nothing on TV but those guys, and I would do my aerobic exercises in the morning, like fifth grade, sixth grade. I just liked being active. I think it’s just part of my makeup. I like running, I like the solitude of running. I like a booty, so I like squatting. My booty went from a cantaloupe to a grapefruit, so I got some work to do. Yeah. I think it helps me work out my frustrations or stress. Honestly, I guess I’m just vain and I want to look good. I just want to look good, whatever I think looks good, but I haven’t worked out in almost a year.

[00:36:35]Maori Karmael Holmes: Oh, wow.

[00:36:36] Amy Sherald: Which is the first time in my life. Maybe I worked out six times this year. It was like once work picked up, then I started prioritizing just getting to the studio, and that sucks. I always say all right, I’m going to start this week. I’m going to start this week. Then it’s like a year later and I haven’t done it. I bought a Peloton and then––now it’s in storage. I’m trying to give it away, but I think I’ll come back to it. I think I’m going to be okay. I’m 48. I just stopped exercising, but then I also just started eating bacon almost every day. I feel like I have a little bit of time to fuck up my body and I can still get back on the horse.

[00:37:34] Maori Karmael Holmes: There’s something. I’m sure I’ve told you this before, but just to talk about it. You have like a giant-sized heart, and I think about you and another close friend who has a heart condition, and the two of you are the most optimistic and loving people that I know. It’s like this odd turn of affairs that the universe has bestowed upon you. I know you talked a lot about having had a transplant publicly, but I’m curious, what changed for you after your procedure? Did you make any new commitments to yourself or did you have any goals or promises that you made?

[00:38:11] Amy Sherald: No. That’s funny. Everybody’s always disappointed with that answer. They’re like, “How did you change?” I’m like, “I didn’t. I didn’t change. I was already perfect.” I thought I was going to die by the time I was 39, so I was like, I had come to terms with that. And once you come to terms with that, it’s like living is easy. The fact that I survived was like, oh, okay, cool. Now, I can get on with it. You know what I mean? I can get on with my life and get on with this journey of becoming an artist and pursuing my dreams. But I was already that person, I think, because I was faced with my own mortality at my diagnosis at 30. I was just like, well, if I got 10 years, then I’m going to kill it. I did everything. I took risk and I let go of stuff, and picked and chose my battles and just really focused and put my energy on those things that I wanted to come to fruition. And did not put my energy into the stuff that didn’t deserve it.

[00:39:29] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. It’s been a real joy to watch you play dress up in the public eye and being “dressed” by a stylist. I was curious if you had any inkling toward fashion or garments showing up in your work, beyond the canvas, like in actual life.

[00:39:53] Amy Sherald: Like, do I want to paint something that somebody else made?

[00:39:57] Maori Karmael Holmes: Maybe, or I don’t know if you’ve been asked to collaborate on a fashion line.

[00:40:02] Amy Sherald : Oh. Yeah, I have. I don’t know whether anybody says this out loud, but there’s a lot of things that I do right now because of this––it’s not a moment––I don’t want to call it that because that almost makes it finite, but the attention and well-deserved attention that Black artists are getting now, you get asked and you want to do it, because it’s something that’s fun. There’s stuff that I wanted to do for the Met Gala. I got asked to do something for the Met Gala, but I think it’s easy for artists, and it works for some artists actually, it’s easy for artists to dip their foot in these different areas. But somehow, for some reason, and it doesn’t make sense to me, it could make you appear to be a less serious artist. I’m still trying to understand that dynamic, but I think the really serious curators are looking at you and they could look at you differently, I guess, if you’re like yeah, I’m making this, I’m doing this thing with Urban Outfitters or something like that. I’m still trying to figure it out. I don’t even have the words for it. I don’t know, but there are collaborations that I want to do and I feel like they will naturally happen. I feel like eventually I’ll be able to do them because I’ll be further along in my career and I could make decisions that won’t have such an impact on me long term. I really want to do something with Thom Browne. I really would love to. I think he’s the main person, because his work really resonates with me because I feel like his people are my people. When he addresses his models, my people are the same kind of people. But I haven’t had a lot of time to think about that.

[00:42:21] Maori Karmael Holmes: I think I read this or I heard Ta-Nehisi Coates talk about this in some article or something. But he just said, “When you get famous, people start asking you to do things you have no training or no background to.” He’s like, “You could do anything.” He was saying, “But you shouldn’t,” and I was just curious. I was sure someone had approached you about a line.

[00:42:44] Amy Sherald: I agree. I agree. Yeah. I’ve been approached for a line, but I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m like, if it doesn’t make sense, then I can’t do it. Yeah. It’s so true. It’s so true. Like commentary on critical race theory. You know what I mean? Then it’s like, you want me to be a news pundit on MSNBC and talk about it? There’s like 1000 other people that would be better than me. Why would you want to ask me to do that? Yeah. I stay in my lane and my lane is making paintings, and that’s what got me here and that’s what’s going to keep me here.

[00:43:27] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. I wanted to move on to talk a little bit about your current life. One of the things that’s been so lovely to witness on social media, I think if you know or even if you don’t, but with hashtag the Shembertons and just watching your love flourish, I was curious how you met Kevin and what has changed in your life because of his influence.

[00:43:51] Amy Sherald: We met about 14 years ago through a mutual friend and I thought he was really cute, but I felt like he was not ready. 14 years went past, he came to a show and we just connected at that time, and then we’ve just been connected ever since. He’s changed my life a lot. He’s changed my life a lot. I had to get used to being with an extrovert. I was like, wow, I have to talk all the time now? I’m tired all the time. But I think because we’re so different, I think we’re complimentary because we live in two different worlds. It sounds crazy, but I’m fascinated with his world and what he does in banks and hedge funds and all that. Then he has a foot in my world, and had a foot in my world before he met me, so I felt like we had an understanding. I didn’t have to explain myself to him. You know what I mean? I dated guys that didn’t know anything about art and that’s just really hard to do.

[00:45:28] Maori Karmael Holmes: Can you talk about what you’re working on right now? Not that you need to be working on anything, but do you have a show coming up? What is next?

[00:45:40] Amy Sherald: I do have a show coming up in London at Hauser & Wirth in October. It’s going to open the week of Frieze, and that’s what my focus is now. That’s what I’ll be doing until August, and then I’ll start day drinking once the work shifts.

[00:45:55] Maori Karmael Holmes: You and your mother. I love it.

[00:46:01] Amy Sherald: Yes, me and my mama.

[00:46:04] Maori Karmael Holmes: Do you think you’ll ever return to the South? Is that a desire of yours to live in Georgia?

[00:46:11] Amy Sherald: I will. Yep, I will. For sure. I don’t want to raise a kid up here. And if we have a family, I think the South is the easiest place to do it.

[00:46:19] Maori Karmael Holmes: That was my next question was what you wanted to conquer next. Was there buying a house or having kids? Is that on the horizon?

[00:46:26] Amy Sherald: I bought a house already. I bought my first condo.

[00:46:29] Maori Karmael Holmes: Oh, okay.

[00:46:30] Amy Sherald: Now, I’m waiting. We’ve gone through a home study and we’re in the process of looking for a child to adopt that’s between the age of three and 12. If anybody knows any pregnant teenagers, I’m kidding. That’s the next thing I want to conquer is becoming a mom.

[00:46:54] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah.

[00:46:56] Amy Sherald: Yeah. I was okay not having kids, and I was okay being a spinster. But then I met Kevin and I’m like, I want to have a kid. I want to be a mom, so I’m waiting for my soul mate of a child. I got my soul mate of a dog, August Wilson. So now I’m waiting on my soul mate of a child to come find us.

[00:47:14] Maori Karmael Holmes: Wait. How are George and Weezy going to feel about that?

[00:47:20] Amy Sherald: August is always going to be my baby. How did I end up with a dog that’s a Virgo? That’s just random. We’re both alike. We’re at home and August will be in the bedroom by himself, in the dark for like two hours when stuff gets too noisy in the living room. He’s a funny guy.

[00:47:42] Maori Karmael Holmes: Can you talk about what you do to wind down?

[00:47:46] Amy Sherald: I wind down every night, I take a bath. I take a salt bath every night and I watch something like the Kardashians, Black-ish, or Bridgerton or Bling Empire. Just something that my mind can just escape, something that it’s so mild it’s like Kevin turns his nose up at. He’s like, “I can’t believe you’re watching that.” I’m like, “I know you’re too good for it, but I’m not.”

[00:48:13] Maori Karmael Holmes: My last question, most importantly, because the world is asking, is when are we getting a portrait of me? No, I’m kidding.

[00:48:23] Amy Sherald: 2024. 2024.

[00:48:29] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah right. I’ve been waiting for 10 years.

[00:48:31] Amy Sherald: At minimum, I’m going to photograph you. Then we’re going to find the painting and we’re going to figure it out.

[00:48:41] Maori Karmael Holmes: I know you’re waiting for me to get in super model shape, but you can just tell us. It’s cool.

[00:48:44] Amy Sherald: No, that’s not it at all. You’re perfect just the way you are.

[00:48:50] Maori Karmael Holmes: Thank you so much, Amy. It was really-

[00:48:52] Amy Sherald: I’m happy to be a part of this. I don’t know, I think you’re amazing, so I think everything you do is amazing, starting with BlackStar. I’m always talking about you, so your ears should constantly be burning.

[00:49:08] Maori Karmael Holmes: Well, thank you, boo-boo. Yeah. I just can’t say thank you enough.

[00:49:12] Amy Sherald: You’re welcome. I’ll talk to you soon. I don’t want to rush off, but somebody just got to my studio and I do have to go.

[00:49:16] Maori Karmael Holmes: Okay. Well, I’m glad we did.

[00:49:18] Amy Sherald: Yes.

[00:49:18] Maori Karmael Holmes: All right.

[00:49:21] Amy Sherald: I’ll call you on my drive home.

[00:49:22] Maori Karmael Holmes: Okay.

[00:49:24] Amy Sherald: Okay. Bye.

[00:49:29] Maori Karmael Holmes: You can find Amy on Instagram @asherald and see her incredible work at This season of Many Lumens is brought to you by Open Society Foundations. It is produced by BlackStar Projects, in partnership with Rowhome Production. The Host and Executive Producer of Many Lumens is me, Maori Karmael Holmes.

This episode was produced by Alex Lewis and Dallas Taylor. Associate Producers are Irit Reinheimer and Farrah Rahaman. Managing Producer is Alex Lewis. Executive Editor is John Myers. Our music supervisor is David “Lil Dave” Adams, BlackStar’s Music in Cinema Fellow, supported by the Pop Culture Collaborative. Our theme song was composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by Lil Dave. This episode features music by Aeon.

Sending you light and see you next time.