Kehinde Wiley is an African-American artist known for his larger than life portraits that center on African-American subjects in heroic stances like pop icon Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and deceased legendary rapper Notorious BIG. Soon the first black president and beloved former POTUS Barack Obama will have his portrait painted by Wiley. The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery announced this week that Obama has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait.
Wiley first showed interest in painting Obama in 2008 when he said: “I’d love, love, love to do his official presidential portrait. I’m actively campaigning.”
Wileys portraits overlay black street culture with European classical motifs and he uses a rich, highly saturated colour palette and decorative patterns to complement his realistic, yet expressive, likenesses, meaning the New York-based artist will bring an exciting spin on the traditionally formal composition. In his other portraits he painted rapper LL Cool J in the style of John Singer Sargent and young African American men in stained glass tableaus, like saints in a cathedral.
“This is something that, as artists, we constantly deal with-throwing away the past, slaying the father, and creating the new. This desire to throw away the old rules,” the Yale-trained artist once said to Interviewmagazine.
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery commissions an artist to create a portrait of the president and the first lady after their tenure in a tradition that started with George H. Bush. Former First Lady Michelle Obama has chosen Baltimore-based painter Amy Sherald to paint her portrait, meaning Wiley and Sherald will be the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian.
Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.
“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”
As with all things Obama, this will be unlike many of his predecessors who have preferred to sit for 90-year old portrait artist Everett Raymond Kinstler. Kinstler has painted eight US presidents, two of which have been designated “official portraits” by the White House.
The Obamas’s portraits, will be unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC next year and it will surely be a must see for many.