Gallery: Art Of Kehinde Wiley, Obama Portrait Artist

by Kim Boateng Posted on February 13th, 2018

With the unveiling of Former President Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C, today, Nigerian-American artist, Kehinde Wiley, became the second African American artist to paint an official presidential portrait, following Simmie Knox’s painting of Bill Clinton, and the first to create such a portrait to go on public view in the Smithsonian’s collection (Knox’s portrait hangs in the White House).

Kehinde Wiley is known for his instantly recognizable, often large-scale portraits, generally featuring African-Americans posed against lushly colored and patterned backdrops, evoking elements of the Old Masters of European art, but with a contemporary sensibility. The artist is particularly known for his portraits of music luminaries, including LL Cool J and Ice T (his hip-hop portraiture specifically was the basis for a 2008 exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, where his Obama commission will hang beginning tuesday).

Though he now lives in Brooklyn, New York, Kehinde Wiley was born in 1977 in south central Los Angeles to a Nigerian father and African-American mother.. He grew up in South Central, steeped in urban and hip-hop culture.

At 11, he began formal art training, attending conservatory classes on the weekends, and soaked up everything he could from L.A.’s art museums. From there, he went on to study at the Art Institute of San Francisco and Yale before settling in New York.

His work has been shown extensively around the world, from the galleries at LACMA, the Hammer Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, to the VH1 Hip Hop Honors Awards, and a billboard campaign for Nike. Wiley is represented by the Roberts & Tilton gallery in Culver City, which has staged five shows with the artist in recent years.

Kehinde Wiley has a Masters of Fine Arts from Yale and, in 2002 earned a prestigious Artist-in-Residence slot at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Kehinde Wiley was awarded the 2014 National Medal of Arts, an honor presented by former President Barack Obama himself. It is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government.

EARLIER: Official Portraits Of Barack, Michelle Obama Unveiled At The Smithsonian – Washington, D.C., USA: Former President Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C, today along with the portrait of former First Lady, Michelle Obama – with both parties present. The two paintings will join the “America’s Presidents” exhibition at the Washington gallery as part of its permanent installation, which will be on view for the public beginning on Tuesday.

While artist Kehinde Wiley is typically known for portraying African Americans as “famous figures in Western art,” his portrait of the 56-year-old 44th president “does not include an overt art historical reference,” according to the Smithsonian.

The flowers seen in the background of President Barack Obama’s portrait do have symbolic meanings. The chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, where Obama began his political career. His childhood home of Hawaii is represented through jasmine, and African blue lilies serve as a nod to his late Kenyan-born father, Barack Obama, Sr.

Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald was selected to paint Michelle Obama’s portrait. Sherald’s interpretation of the ex-executive mansion resident features gray skin tones, a hallmark of the majority of her paintings.

Michelle Obama, 54, is seen wearing a dress by fashion designer Michelle Smith’s label, Milly.

The unveiling served as a reunion of sorts for Obama administration veterans including but not limited to:.

former White House press secretary Josh Earnest chatting with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Steven Spielberg, who once directed Obama in a spoof of his film, “Lincoln,” for the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner; former Attorney General Eric Holder; former White House press secretary Jay Carney and his wife, journalist Claire Shipman; Obama adviser David Axelrod hugging Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, Tina Tchen; ex-Obama aide Reggie Love; former White House chef Sam Kass and wife, CBS News’s Alex Wagner, smiling and attracting oodles of baby gawkers while holding their six-month-old son, Cy; and longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Michelle Obama on her official portrait: “I’m also thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall.”

Kehinde Wiley, the artist who drew President Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait, was born in 1977 in south central Los Angeles to a Nigerian father and African-American mother.

Kehinde Wiley was awarded the 2014 National Medal of Arts, an honor presented by former President Barack Obama himself. It is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government.

To this day, Wiley remains one of the most sought-after painters in America.

“He listened very thoughtfully to what I had to say before doing exactly what he always intended to do,” he said. ”I tried to negotiate less grey hair, but Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow it. I tried to negotiate smaller ears and struck out on that as well.” Obama said of his portrait.

Author

Kim Boateng

Kim Boateng

With a Degree in Environmental Sciences, Kim the self professed jack of all trades and master of some simply "goes there" and brings a level of attention and detail to Nigeria Circle's quest for excellence in investigative journalism that sets her apart. Before journalism she worked in Safety, Quality Assurance and Control in several industries.
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