The Making of Vogue’s September Issue 2020 Covers

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The Making of Vogue’s September Issue 2020 Covers

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The Black figures Marshall paints have skin so dark that it is, as he says, “at the edge of visibility.” Like Ad Reinhart’s black paintings, I asked. He responded that the comparison was apt: “Reinhart said he was turning the light out on painting. 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.”

To get this, Marshall begins with three different shades—carbon black; iron oxide black, also called mars black; and ivory black, also called bone black—and then adds cobalt blue, chrome green, carbazole dioxazine violet, yellow ochre, and raw sienna. “The color comes up when you stack them on top of each other,” he says. Marshall texted me the final image mid-July, and at first I could barely see the features of her face. But as we talked, they emerged, gradually and indelibly. “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,” he says. “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.”

A sketch of Kerry James Marshall’s work for the September issue, Working Study 1, 2020. Courtesy of Kerry James Marshall.

Photo: courtesy of Kerry James Marshall

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