“It may not be possible to convey to someone else the mysterious transforming gifts by which dreams, memory, and experience become art. But I like to think that I can try.” —Betye Saar

The 95-year old Saar has a special gift for words and visual art, and her sentiment feels like a perfect entry to the Fall 2021 Quarterly. It’s a modest but fulsome description of what we try to present on these pages, a message that can be difficult to shift into words. There’s something in the air these days, a new form of unsettling patience as we struggle to emerge from 18 months of seclusion and introspection, peeking outside to see changes in the physical world. I witnessed transitions in the great city of Lonodn this summer, a confusing interlude when art could offer comfort and aspiration, but was thwarted by conditions of viewing and optimal appreciation. These transformational gifts of which Saar speaks have a heightened need, and beg the questions of the current role of art and how artists’ perceptions can shape and interpret what is hopefully a brave new world.

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This issue weaves a thread of listening, as many of the featured artists speak of place as an in-between time. That many of them came from the middle of the United States, central Europe or central Africa even, seems to capture a mood of looking out—bringing traditions and influences from all around and transforming them into something completely fresh. We often ask about their listening habits, meaning music or podcasts. But do we mean “what do you hear” from the world around you? What are we listening to in terms of how people feel, especially within the collective identity of the time? Our cover image sets the tone: a faceless woman, between two massive buildings, brimming with expression and  strength, defying an urban echo chamber, overseeing the world beneath. The first time I saw this painting by Julie Curtiss, I was struck by an ominous force upon this all-seeing, all-knowing figure, as if on a pulpit, assessing the crowd. There was a wonderful line in her interview where she seems to speak directly about this work. “I want people to still have room to project some of their lead experiences or some of their inner world into my work,” she said, “and I want to provide enough ambiguity that portrays how ideas are often complementary. I’m more interested in paradox, and in how things can reverse in one second.” The cover begs even further questions: are we ready for what is to come?

This ability to examine ambiguity and uncertainty runs deeply here, especially as we absorb what is happening all around. Umar Rashid addresses history within the process of listening and reimaging. Geoff McFetridge directs his poetic figures into a constant conversational engagement with each other and the self. Kayla Mahaffey infuses her portraits with past, present and future. Jane Dickson and Alfonso Gonzlaez Jr.’s paint narratives of the intricate fabric of urban experience. These moments of noticing, of listening, or trying to convey what we hear and see into something visual are the gifts that Saar speaks of. As we all begin this new decade with a frontier of uncertainty ahead, artists are here to enlighten and inspire us with memories that become universal stories. —Evan Pricco

Enjoy Fall 2021, and buy it here now. 

With features on Julie Curtiss, Geoff McFetridge, Umar Rashid, Jane Dickson, Shaina McCoy, Alfonso Gonzalez Jr, Kayla Mahaffey, Akos Ezer and Lily Wong.