For Vogue US September 2020 issue, Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel were given complete freedom to decide who would be on their covers, a real or imaginary person, and how that person would be portrayed.
For her Vogue cover, Casteel chose a real person as her subject, fashion designer Aurora James, who made headlines in June with her @15percentpledge, a campaign to support Black-owned businesses. “I believe that what Aurora is doing is hugely important in creating the long-term change that Black people deserve and this country owes us,” Casteel says. “I see her as a light in a lot of darkness, and a potential for hope, a representative of change across all creative industries. What’s most exciting to me is being given artistic integrity and being able to choose the person to be my sitter—someone who reflects a portion of my own identity—and then to do that truly in the medium of my choice. This is the way that I speak to the world. And this is the way I’ve been speaking to the world and talking about the humanity of our people, talking about humanity in general. It’s a really profound experience. I do think I’m participating and a change is happening.”
Marshall created a fictional character, as he typically does in his paintings. “I’m trying to build into her expression that she’s not dependent on the gaze of the spectator,” he says. “‘I’m here and you can see me, but I’m not here for you.’ That’s a critical element. The great word, ultimately, is going to be self-possessed. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
The Black figures Marshall paints have skin so dark that it is, as he says, “at the edge of visibility.” To achieve this, Marshall begins with three different shades—carbon black, iron oxide black, also called mars black, and ivory black, also called bone black, and then adds cobalt blue, chrome green, carbazole dioxazine violet, yellow ochre, and raw sienna. “The color comes up when you stack them on top of each other,” he says. “If you’re going to be painting a face as black as I’m painting them, they can’t just be a cipher, like a black hole. They have to be mysterious but available. If you say ‘Black is beautiful,’ you have to show it. And what I’m doing is showing it at the extreme. Yes, it is black—very black—and it is very beautiful.” (source)
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