22/04/2024 2:42 AM


Adorn your Feelings

The Story Behind TIME’s 2020 Person of the Year Covers

5 min read

To illustrate the broad range of people featured on the 2020 Person of the Year covers, we commissioned artists and photographers with a variety of backgrounds and styles—from digital art to oil painting; portraitists to a high school freshman.

The image of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the 2020 Person of the Year was painted by Chicago-based artist Jason Seiler.

Seiler, who studied fine art illustration at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and worked as a character designer for movie director Tim Burton, captured the realistic portrait of the incoming pair by painting directly on a 27-inch LCD display.

“My process with the painting phase was all about pulling the light out from the darkness,” said Seiler, who also painted TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year, Pope Francis. “My approach was very similar to how I would paint traditionally with oils, even though I painted this digitally.”

“The technique is based off the Dutch Flemish Oil approach where the artist would do a raw umber underpainting, keeping the shadows nice and thin, and soft, and then laying in thick layers of white wherever light is seen,” says Seiler, who spent more than 40 hours creating the portrait. “When you see the painting from a distance it looks realistic, but when you see it up close, you can see that it is an accumulation of abstract brushstrokes, that when placed in the correct place, create the illusion of a face.”

Photographer Jody Rogac created a powerful photo of Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of four Guardians of the Year, in Bethesda, Maryland, on Dec. 4. Rogac cofounded Pictures for Elmhurst, a fundraiser that brought together the photo community in April to raise $1.38 million for Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York, by selling photographic prints. Rogac previously photographed Amy Sherald, the Women’s March organizers, Gloria Steinem and Harry Belafonte for TIME.

For the Athlete of the Year cover of LeBron James, we turned the canvas over to 14-year-old Tyler Gordon. Gordon, who was named one of five finalists for TIME’s 2020 Kid of the Year, painted three portraits of the NBA champion and athlete activist for us.

“Working hard makes you a contender but believing in yourself makes you a Champion,” says Tyler, who is a “Lakers and a Warriors fan through and through.”

Gordon has faced many challenges in his young life, using a wheelchair for nearly two years after breaking bones in his legs and hips because of a vitamin D deficiency. He was also born deaf and underwent a surgery at age 5 that gave him some hearing, but he still speaks with a stutter. In elementary school, he got bullied so much that he barely spoke.

“LeBron is one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and I am honored to be painting his portrait for TIME,” says Gordon, who found his artistic voice at age 10 after watching his mom paint. “He cares a lot about his family and even though he joined the NBA at a young age he still worked really hard to prove himself to the other players and it paid off.”

Since winning first place in a school art contest with a portrait he made of the principal, Gordon has painted more than 500 portraits of Black icons who inspire him, including a portrait of the Central Park Five that sold for more than $100,000 at auction.

Fiber artist Bisa Butler quilted a portrait out of cotton, silk, wool and velvet of Guardian of the Year Porche Bennett-Bey, who stood up for truth during a Biden campaign event in Kenosha, Wisc., on Sept. 3.

“The birds are from a fabric called Speed Bird in West Africa and they signify change, prosperity, freedom and transition,” says Butler, who titled the 24” x 30” piece A Good Time for the Truth after a quote by American poet Nikki Giovanni. “I’m also using them to suggest that Porche is forward thinking and that she is determined to speak her truth. I thought of the birds flying in almost military formation and that she herself is a warrior for justice.”

“I used a fabric with black star’s emblazoned on her shirt to communicate that Porche herself is the black star,” says Butler, whose work has exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Epcot Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and other venues. “The stars also signify that she is a leader–like a 4 star general.”

The task of photographing the “biggest band in the world” fell on photographer Mok Jung Wook. Wook created the portrait of TIME’s 2020 Entertainer of the Year, BTS, in Seoul on Oct 29.

The cover for TIME’s Businessperson of the Year features an image that will be familiar to many around the world this year—a Zoom meeting call screen with CEO and founder Eric Yuan.

French activist Assa Traoré was photographed by Kenny Germé in Ivry-sur-Seine, an eastern suburb of Paris in September 2020. The portrait was originally shot for ANTIDOTE magazine.

The Frontline Workers cover was created by longtime collaborator Tim O’Brien, who has painted more TIME covers (33) than any artist in the past 30 years, including the 1998 Person of the Year cover on Kenneth Starr and Bill Clinton. His latest work features Rebecca Martin (a pulmonologist from Arkansas), Archana Ghugare (a community health worker in Pavnar, India), Shelah McMillian (a school nurse in Philadelphia) and Pete Sands (a community relief organizer from Utah). Each are profiled in this year’s Person of the Year issue.

This article is part of TIME’s 2020 Person of the Year issue. Read more and sign up for the Inside TIME newsletter to be among the first to see our cover every week.

Contact us at [email protected].

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