Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel are the latest to people to join a storied list of artists—including Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, and John Currin—that have been invited to create covers for the vaunted September issue of Vogue. According to the magazine, the celebrated portraitists were given total creative freedom in the choice of cover star, real or imaginary, as long as the subject was painted wearing one of four couture outfits selected by the Vogue team. Each artist was also asked to use “hope” as a creative starting point.
Kerry James Marshall, who had a lauded retrospective at the Met Breuer in 2016, decided to create a fictional scene. In his cover, a Black woman wears a white formal evening dress by Off-White. High-rise buildings are visible in the window behind her, creating the impression that she is in a penthouse apartment. The figure resists the viewer’s gaze, looking instead outside the frame.
“I’m trying to build into her expression that she’s not dependent on the gaze of the spectator,” Marshall told Vogue. “‘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.”
For her cover, Casteel featured the designer and activist Aurora James. She is depicted on the rooftop of her Brooklyn apartment building, draped in a flowing blue silk gown from Pyer Moss. She is framed by the cityscape, but Casteel painted James gazing more directly at the viewer.
Casteel, who is currently the subject of a New Museum solo show, told Vogue, “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.”