Former President Barack Obama just made history with his pick of the artist who gets to paint his official presidential portrait. He picked openly gay and African-American artist Kehinde Wiley to be the artisan wielding the brush. But who is Kehinde Wiley?
Who is Kehinde Wiley?
A New York-based portrait painter originally from Los Angeles, Wiley is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of black people in heroic poses. The Columbus Museum of Art describes his work: “Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture.”
Former First Lady Michelle Obama chose a different artist: Amy Sherald. InStyle reports that the Obama’s choice of these two artists is historical, as it’s the first time African American artists have been selected since the portraits begun to be painted in 1994. There are always two sets of portraits created: one will hang in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery while the other will find a home in the White House.
“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,’ said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “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.”
Wiley has long photographed black men and women from countries with histories of colonialism or slavery, posing them in ways that recreate poses from famous white portraits. He then paints and titles his contemporary reinterpretations after the works that inspired them. Often his subjects seem to pop-out from their floral backgrounds and that’s precisely the point: Black people have remained in the background for far too long. Wiley makes them stand in the foreground where they can’t be ignored.
We’re also happy once Obama’s portrait is hung in the White House, current President Donald Trump won’t be able to ignore him either.
The two portraits will be unveiled sometime in 2018.