Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel painted covers for Vogue’s September issue.

Daria Simone Harper
Aug 26, 2020 4:02PM, via Vogue

The cover of Vogue’s September issue featuring a new Kerry James Marshall painting. Courtesy Vogue.

Beloved painters Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel have each painted a new portrait for the cover of Vogue magazine’s iconic September issue. Marshall and Casteel were granted full artistic license to choose who they would depict on their cover, whether real or imaginary, and how they would portray them. Their one requirement was that they would show their subject wearing a dress by one of four designers selected by Vogue. The few artists who have created Vogue covers in the past include Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Marie Laurencin, and most recently, John Currin.

Marshall, whose major retrospective “Mastry” traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles from 2016 to 2017, is best known for his formally meticulous figurative paintings, which depict fictional characters that the artist describes as “unequivocally, emphatically black.” His Vogue cover shows one of his signature imaginary subjects dressed in a white evening gown by Off-White. She stands in front of a window frame that looks out onto a vibrant terrace. One hand is placed gently across her torso and her gaze is set firmly outside of the frame.

Marshall described his work in a statement, saying:

[Their skin is so dark that it is] at the edge of visibility... But if you’re going to be at the edge of visibility, you’ve gotta put all the information in there. The reality is that even when the lights are off, everything that was in the world is still there. [...] The point is to show that blackness is rich and complex, within the blackness alone. I’m trying to build into her expression that she’s not dependent on the gaze of the spectator. ‘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.’

The cover of Vogue’s September issue featuring a new painting by Jordan Casteel. Courtesy Vogue.

Unlike Marshall, Casteel’s massive portraits usually depict real people, sometimes family and friends, and sometimes people from her community in Harlem. In February 2020, Casteel mounted nearly 40 of these works in her first solo museum exhibition in New York City at the New Museum (the show was extended through January 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the museum to close shortly after it opened). Casteel’s cover shows fashion designer Aurora James perched on a stool on the designer’s Brooklyn rooftop. James is clad in a blue silk dress by Pyer Moss, and the landscape around her mimics the soft blue of the garment.

Casteel said in a press release:

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. […] 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. I see her as a light in a lot of darkness, and a potential for hope, a representative of change across all creative industries.

Vogue is not the only major fashion publication to commission the work of contemporary painters for its September issue. Earlier this week, Vanity Fair unveiled its September cover which features a painting by Amy Sherald of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro police officers in her home on March 13th. The cover is part of a special issue, called “The Great Fire,” which was guest edited by award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Further Reading: The World of Groundbreaking Artist Kerry James Marshall

Further Reading: Jordan Casteel’s Bold Portraiture Is More Than a Market Trend

Daria Simone Harper
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019