Montclair, New Jersey, saw itself as a progressive utopia, until a video of a white woman calling the police on her Black neighbors went viral. For the latest issue of New York Magazine, writer Allison P. Davis (@allisonpdavis) looks at the fallout from the incident and what it’s like for the couple, six months later, to still share a property line. About the “Karen” next door, Norrinda Brown Hayat tells Davis: “I would be happy if she moved. It would not make me happy if she was in jail.”
The cover artwork is by Portland, Oregon–based painter Julian Victor LaMarr Gaines (@juworkingonprojects), who first collaborated with New York on the magazine’s “I Voted” cover project. Gaines began his “Karens” series at the height of quarantine, when he had time to reflect and wanted to creatively express his negative personal experiences with white neighbors.
Gaines says that there were two quotes that inspired him to start channeling the adverse situations that he’d experienced into art: One was Nina Simone’s “An artist’s duty … is to reflect the times,” and the other was Maya Angelou’s:
You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.
Angelou’s words “allowed me to take the upset energy that I had and to put it on canvas and try to tell this story,” Gaines says. “It’s my responsibility to use the anger and energy that I deal with being Black in Portland and put it on canvas, because this is my tool.”
Gaines says that artist Roy Lichtenstein was an inspiration for his “Karens” series, with the Pop Art aesthetic so “easily digestible” and “haterproof.” He wanted to be sure that the message of his work didn’t get lost by people who didn’t like the artistic style: “Everybody loves Pop Art, whether you’re a novice or an art enthusiast,” Gaines says. He also cites David Hammons’s painting How Ya Like Me Now?, which depicts Jesse Jackson as a white man, as inspiration: “It was so outspoken and got you.”