FOR HER FIRST COVER of The New Yorker, Nina Chanel Abney made an image that celebrates a return to socializing. The portrait references Eustace Tilley, the magazine’s famous dandy mascot. Abney’s version is a Black female dandy who appears on the May 31 issue of the magazine.

Enjoying a cocktail outdoors among a few trees, her hair is styled in blunt bob topped by a bowler hat. Martini in hand, she raises her glass as if to toast a new beginning. Flowers referencing the COVID-19 virus, with spikes sprouting from a spherical surface, beautify her table.

 


NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Happy Hours,” The New Yorker, May 31, 2021

 

The cover illustration is titled “Happy Hours,” a reference to the after-work social hours in bars and restaurants that disappeared when the world shut down in the wake of the pandemic. It can also be read as a nod to the joyful hours ahead as we slowly re-orient ourselves and begin to come together again.

Blending abstraction and figuration, Abney has developed a shorthand language of shapes and symbols to document the complexities of contemporary culture. The style translates well for her cover image.

Abney’s protagonist is wearing her heart, not on her sleeve, as the expression goes, but on her chest. The symbolism indicates her character is open and transparent when it comes to her emotions and maybe a bit wary about being out and about after a year of social distancing. The sentiment is reflected in the artist’s own perspective as the world emerges from isolation.

“Now that people are enjoying the outdoors, there are more options for socializing. But, personally, I like New York and New Yorkers with as much distance as possible between me and the next person.”
— Nina Chanel Abney

“Now that people are enjoying the outdoors, there are more options for socializing. But, personally, I like New York and New Yorkers with as much distance as possible between me and the next person,” Abney said, discussing the cover project with Françoise Mouly, art editor at The New Yorker.

“A renaissance in hygiene is what we need; that will allow everyone to have a better time hanging out. I hope everyone keeps washing their hands and being considerate of others. We’ve been through a lot over the past year, and covid-19 is still active and present.”

Abney lives and works in New York. She primarily makes paintings that are exhibited in galleries and museums, but she also works on a variety of additional projects and platforms. She’s painted indoor and outdoor murals and created UNO cards and figurines. Her work has appeared on clothing, skatedecks, and most recently The New Yorker. “Now that we can move around again,” she said she’s curious about large public sculptures.

Expressing herself in a universally understood visual language, Abney seeks to engage the masses. “My intended audience is everyone,” she told Mouly. “I hope anyone can find a way to connect to my work.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Nina Chanel Abney on her website

 

BOOKSHELF
“Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush” accompanied the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, which was organized by Marshall Price. The fully illustrated catalog includes a preface by Richard J. Powell, critical essays by Price and Natalie Y. Moore, and an interview with Nina Chanel Abney conducted by Jamillah James.

 

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