Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Teacup as Symbol: Miss Everything by Amy Sherald

Print of Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance) by Amy Sherald

I was recently in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and had the good fortune of learning that this painting is on display at the University's Ackland Art Museum.  I will definitely stop in to see it on my next visit to that area.  It will be on display at the Ackland through August 26, 2018.  This painting, Amy Sherald's Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance), won the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery.  Since 2016, the painting has been on tour as a part of the The Outwin: American Portraiture Today exhibition.

So what does this painting have to do with tea, you ask?  Well, just take a look at it.  The over-sized teacup takes center stage in this portrait.  And the figure wears white gloves to hold this teacup and saucer - bringing to my mind earlier days of well-heeled women "taking tea." But this portrait features a very young black woman - surely too young to be one of those tea-taking, hat-wearing women.

I have been very curious about this image and what role tea as symbol plays in it, so I have done a bit of background research.  I have not found anything written specifically about the tea aspect of this painting.  But online you can find many (non-tea specific) written and recorded interviews with the artist.

There is a short video online HERE in which the Amy Sherald discusses this specific painting.  In this video, the Sherald suggests that the young woman in the painting is playing dress up, engaged in fantasy, (inspired by the tale of Alice in Wonderland) but also perhaps striving to be something other than what she is.  Later In this video the artist says that she wants her artwork to be "relate-able." She wants people to be able to write their own stories about her paintings.  So that is what I will do, since tea is on my mind.

I see the teacup in this painting as a symbol of propriety, conformity to what is socially acceptable in certain circles.  In the case of this over-sized teacup, I see this young woman dreaming of being or becoming a woman who lives comfortably, a woman who has time to socialize and take tea with other women like herself.  Because the figure in this portrait is quite young, and the teacup is quite large, the painting feels dream-like and aspirational to me.

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Maira Gall