Vogue’s September 2020 Covers by Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel

Posted on August 25, 2020

Vogue covers have been talking to us for 128 years. They talk to us about who we are and about the world we live in. This year, with our world turned upside down, by the plagues of COVID-19 and presidential incompetence, we invited two contemporary artists, Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel, to make paintings for our September covers.

Artists have created Vogue covers before, on rare occasions: Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Marie Laurencin, and most recently, John Currin, who painted Jennifer Lawrence for the September 2017 issue. (Marcel Duchamp was asked to do one in 1943, but Vogue then turned the resulting piece down.) What’s different this time is that Marshall and Casteel were given complete freedom to decide who would be on their cover, a real or imaginary person, and how that person would be portrayed. The only requirement was that they choose a dress by one of four Vogue-selected designers for their subject to wear.

 

Kerry James Marshall

 

Marshall on the skin tone of his figures: “[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. You have to put it in there so that if people actually look hard, they can see it. The point is to show that blackness is rich and complex, within the blackness alone.” Marshall on his process of mixing paints: “The color comes up when you stack them on top of each other…. 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.” Marshall on his fictional subject: “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.’ That’s what I’m aiming for.”

Marshall on his process of mixing paints: “The color comes up when you stack them on top of each other…. 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.”

Marshall on his fictional subject: “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.’ That’s what I’m aiming for.”

Jordan Casteel

 

Casteel on fashion designer Aurora James: “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.”

Casteel on choosing a subject for her painting: “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.”

Casteel examines the various depictions of ‘hope’ in her painting: “I think of the sky as being full of endless possibilities. A lot of hope lies within that. The two birds next to her are a moment where I think of flight—the opportunity to move into new spaces. Most of the windows have the same blue that is in the sky. I like the idea that the hope of the sky came inside this urban building-scape, that whoever occupies that space within is also seeing the sky. I think about her foot being pressed against the ground. I purposely chose this active foot that feels like it’s propelling her upwards into the world above her—she’s stepping into the space of real possibility. Those are some of the things I thought about in making this portrait as it relates to hope and all the things that can exist beyond where we are right now. To create a better future, not only for ourselves but for those we love and those who will come after us.”

 

Vogue’s September 2020 issue is available on newsstands nationwide on September 1st.

 

Style Credits:
Cover Look (Marshall): Off-White Dress
Cover Look (Casteel): Pyer Moss Dress | Brother Vellies Shoes

 

[Photo Credit: Kerry James Marshall, Jordan Casteel/Vogue Magazine]

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