Grace Lynne Haynes’s first artwork featured Sojourner Truth to commemorate 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote
Painter Grace Lynne Haynes accomplished something few young artists have before she even began her MFA at the Mason Gross School of the Arts this fall.
The 27-year-old student in the Department of Art Design has painted her second cover for The New Yorker since early August, a significant achievement at any age.
"If not unprecedented, it is exceedingly rare for an artist be featured on two covers within a single month, which is clearly a testament to the power of Grace's unique vision as an artist," said department chair Marc Handelman. "Art and Design is so proud of Grace for her stunning and moving contributions to The New Yorker."
Her latest creation, a color-drenched, boldly patterned portrait of a Black woman in a fabulous outfit with an equally fabulous bird perched on her right palm, is featured on the cover of the magazine’s September 7 Fall Style and Design issue. Her inaugural cover for the magazine in early August marked the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment with an equally bold and highly patterned portrait of 19th-century abolitionist, former slave, and women’s rights crusader Sojourner Truth flanked by hummingbirds.
Haynes, who grew up in California, studied illustration and has contributed haute-couture paintings to Vogue, possesses a signature style. In other words, you know a Haynes when you see one: high-fashion, luxuriating poses, and of course those bold pops of color and textiles, set against flat, abstracted Black bodies.
“I’m especially fascinated by the idea of dark and light existing in one image,” Haynes, who currently lives in New Brunswick, told The New Yorker. “When I was an undergraduate, I couldn’t find information on how to paint darker-brown skin tones, so I began painting my characters in a deep black. Since then, the color black has been the focus of my paintings. I want to challenge the notion that black represents evil and showcase how darkness can be positive and pure.”
Haynes, featured this year among Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Art and Style,” says her first New Yorker commission surfaced at the last minute, after the magazine learned about her collaboration with Vogue. She only had a few days to submit her sketches on the topic of the 100th anniversary of U.S. women earning the right to vote, and less than a week to complete the painting.
Haynes plunged into researching the history of voting rights in the United States – she knew she wanted to paint a historical portrait of a Black woman – and soon learned a hard truth: that Black women were actually not able to vote in the United States until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, nearly a half-century after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Haynes says she was “disappointed” but not exactly taken aback, “given this country’s complex history.” Truth emerged as the ideal candidate for the cover, Haynes says, because despite her prolonged and vocal advocacy for women’s rights – her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech remains iconic, to this day – Truth “didn’t get to see the fruits of her labor.” So the portrait, rather than a celebration of the centennial, stands as a reminder, Haynes says, “that this anniversary isn’t inclusive.”
It could also be seen as a celebration of grit, a toast to the daily, grinding work of justice – justice that eluded Truth in her lifetime.
“People are looking for positivity right now and a message that is uplifting,” Haynes says, “and Sojourner Truth’s story shows the [resilience] of the human spirit and represents the tenacity to move forward.”
Despite Haynes’s choice to highlight a historical figure for The New Yorker, she is devoted to creating work that resonates with 21st-century viewers.
“One of my all-time favorite quotes by Nina Simone is: ‘An artist’s duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.’ I firmly stand by this statement, and live by it in my work,” Haynes says. “My role as a visual artist and a Black woman is to reflect on the current state of womanhood and create paintings that represent what women in my generation are feeling and going through.”
Follow Haynes on Instagram at @bygracelynne.