Still via YouTube/National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Baltimore portrait artist Amy Sherald, who was recently chosen for the prestigious job of painting the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, will be speaking at Hopkins next week.

Sherald and artist Kehinde Wiley, who will paint the portrait of President Obama, are the first African-American artists hired by the Smithsonian to paint a president and first lady, according to The Wall Street Journal. She graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art and recently became a member of the school’s painting faculty. Her work is housed in the permanent collections of some of the nation’s most prominent museums, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Sherald is known for her portraits of African-American subjects, whose skin — painted in smooth grayscale — contrasts strikingly with brightly colored clothing and textural surroundings. One result is a jarring reminder of the secondary status her subjects have endured for centuries.

“As a portrait painter, I have an opportunity to narrate this story for us in a way that has not been narrated historically,” Sherald told The Baltimore Sun of her portrait series in January, per the Hopkins Hub, “[were] these different archetypes of self-satisfied people of color.”

She’s received numerous local and national painting awards, including first prize in the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, an honor that included a $25,000 prize, and the chance to put a painting in that museum’s permanent collection as well.

Sherald is the first woman ever chosen for that award. It put her on the radar of the Smithsonian Institute, which in turn provided her portfolio to the Obamas — along with twenty-some other artists — as candidates to paint their official portraits.

A spokesperson for MICA told Baltimore Fishbowl Sherald is unable to give any interviews about the commission until February, as part of her agreement with the Smithsonian Institute.

The Baltimore local will give a free talk at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, in Room 101 of the F. Ross Jones Building’s Mattin Center, located on Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus.

Rachel Bone

Rachel Bone is a regular contributor to the Baltimore Fishbowl.