Kara Walker made a portrait of Toni Morrison for the cover of The New Yorker.

Benjamin Sutton
Aug 8, 2019 3:59PM, via The New Yorker/Instagram

Kara Walker at the Museum of Modern Art Party In The Garden in 2015. Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage.

The artist Kara Walker has created an instantly iconic portrait of the recently deceased author Toni Morrison for the cover of The New Yorker magazine. The portrait, shared by the magazine on Instagram and reposted by Walker, features a closeup of Morrison’s head. The artwork is rendered in Walker’s distinctive, high-contrast, cut paper silhouette style, with dramatically swirling hair that curls toward Morrison’s mouth. The artwork will appear on the cover of the magazine’s August 19th issue.

Walker and Morrison have crossed paths formally and professionally many times before. The two collaborated on a limited edition book project in 2002, Five Poems, which featured poetry by Morrison and illustrations by Walker. Scholar Stephanie Li wrote of the project:

The partnership between Morrison and Walker is both remarkable and unprecedented. Although Walker has cited Morrison as a key influence on her artistic development and critics have begun to analyze intersections in their work, Five Poems is the first demonstration of collaboration.

Indeed, Walker has long been a close reader of Morrison’s Pulitzer- and Nobel-winning writings. The author is among a list of literary giants cited as influences in Hilton Als’s profile of the artist, published by The New Yorker in 2007. In the article, Als noted formal resonances between an important early work Walker created at the Drawing Center and Morrison’s 1981 novel Tar Baby.

Walker has also been critical of Morrison’s work. In 2015, she reviewed the author’s 11th novel, God Help the Child, for the New York Times, finding its narrative centered on child abuse to be lacking depth of character and detail. But even amid her criticisms, Walker’s deep feeling and respect for the exceptional qualities of Morrison’s work was evident:

Toni Morrison has always written for the ear, with a loving attention to the textures and sounds of words. And the natural landscapes in her books have a way of erupting into lively play, giving richness and depth to her themes. [. . .] The long arms of the story embrace you before you fully understand where you are or what is happening. You read with total trust, because in a place this alive, there’s surely more to come.
Benjamin Sutton