I’ve recently made a children’s book about Nelson Mandela, but for a New Yorker cover, I settled on a younger image of him during the time that he was on trial with over a hundred of his comrades.
From looking at the photos of the time, I could see that the energy around him was very strong and that his peers were very much with and behind him. He was clearly a leader. I wanted to make a simple and bold statement about Mandela and his life as a freedom fighter. The raised fist and the simple, stark palette reminded me of posters and anti-apartheid imagery of the nineteen-eighties. This painting is a tribute to the struggle for freedom from all forms of discrimination, and Nelson’s very prominent role as a leader in the anti-apartheid movement.
He added, "Being an artist is kind of like being an actor. So as I painted Nelson’s portrait, I felt empowered and proud like the man himself. He has long been a personal hero of mine. I saw him speak shortly after he was released from prison, in 1990. It was both an honor and a privilege to paint his portrait and tell his story."
In remarks today, President Obama said, "Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better."