President Obama has just commissioned a very important selfie. #44 has chosen artist Kehinde Wiley to create his official portrait for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Wiley admired Obama throughout his presidency, commenting, “The reality of Barack Obama being the president of the United States–quite possibly the most powerful nation in the world–means that the image of power is completely new for an entire generation of not only black American kids, but every population group in this nation.” What better artist to honor Obama’s legacy than Wiley, who celebrates portraying black men in positions of power.
Wiley first attended art school at the age of 11. Let’s put that in perspective. When I was 11, I was in fifth grade and struggling with fractions and trying to open my locker. Wiley, on the other hand, was beginning a journey that would propel him into well-deserved stardom. Much of his training focused on the Old Master paintings (think da Vinci and Michelangelo) and this influence is apparent in his works that feature men of color in the poses of famous figures.
Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps
In Wiley’s own words, he “engages the signs and visual rhetoric of the heroic, powerful, majestic, and the sublime in his representation of urban, black, and brown men found throughout the world.” Although Wiley’s work usually features models he finds while strolling the streets of his favorite cities, he has also created portraits of Michael Jackson, the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and Ice T. The artist takes great pride in his opportunity to provide representation for kids of color and now his portrait of President Obama will continue this tradition.
Wiley and Obama in the Oval Office
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Special thanks to the following sources:
Park, Madison. “Kehinde Wiley Chosen to Paint Obama’s Official Portrait.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Oct. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/10/16/politics/obama-portraits-kehinde-wiley-amy-sheral….
Gray, Yasmine. “5 Things to Know About Kehinde Wiley, The Artist Known for Painting Rappers & Now Obama’s Presidential Portrait.” Billboard, 19 Oct. 2017, www.billboard.com/articles/news/lifestyle/8006604/barack-obama-portrait-….
“KEHINDE WILEY STUDIO KW STUDIO.” Kehinde Wiley Studio, kehindewiley.com/about/.