Kehinde Wiley (born 1977) is a New York City-based portrait painter who is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of African-Americans. The Columbus Museum of Art, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2007, describes his work as follows: "Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture."
Wiley in 2015
|Born||1977 (age 40–41)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Education||San Francisco Art Institute, 1999
MFA, Yale University School of Art, 2001
|Notable work||Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005)|
In October 2017 it was announced that Wiley had been commissioned to produce a portrait of former U.S. president Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. This painting was unveiled on February 12, 2018. He and Amy Sherald, whose portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama was simultaneously unveiled, are the first black artists to paint official portraits of the president or First Lady for the National Portrait Gallery. Wiley has received criticism in association with commissioning him for the Obama presidential portrait, as he has produced two painting variations of Judith Beheading Holofernes where Wiley depicts African-American women holding the severed heads of white women, which Wiley says is a "play on the 'kill whitey' thing".
Early life and educationEdit
Wiley was born in Los Angeles, California. His father is Yoruba from Nigeria, and his mother is African-American. As a child, his mother supported his interest in art and enrolled him in after-school art classes. At the age of 12, he spent a short time at an art school in Russia.
Wiley did not grow up with his father, and at the age of 20 traveled to Nigeria to explore his roots and meet him. Wiley earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art in 2001.
Wiley often references Old Masters paintings for the pose of the figure. Wiley's paintings often blur the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation. Rendered in a realistic mode—while making references to specific Old Master paintings—Wiley creates a fusion of period styles, ranging from French Rococo, Islamic architecture and West African textile design to urban hip hop and the "Sea Foam Green" of a Martha Stewart Interiors color swatch. Wiley's slightly larger than life-size figures are depicted in a heroic manner, as their poses connote power and spiritual awakening. Wiley's portrayal of masculinity is filtered through these poses of power and spirituality.
Wiley's Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005) is based on Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1800) by Jacques-Louis David, often regarded as a "masterpiece", now restaged by Wiley with an African rider wearing modern army fatigues and a bandanna. Wiley "investigates the perception of blackness and creates a contemporary hybrid Olympus in which tradition is invested with a new street credibility".
His portraits are based on photographs of young men whom Wiley sees on the street. He has painted men from Harlem's 125th Street, as well as the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood where he was born. Dressed in street clothes, his models were asked to assume poses from the paintings of Renaissance masters, such as Tiziano Vecellio and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Wiley describes his approach as "interrogating the notion of the master painter, at once critical and complicit." His figurative paintings "quote historical sources and position young black men within that field of power". In this manner, his paintings fuse history and style in a unique and contemporary manner. His art has been described as having homoerotic qualities. Wiley has used a sperm motif as symbolic of masculinity and gender.
Wiley had a retrospective in 2016 at Seattle Art Museum. In May 2017, he had an exhibit, Trickster, at the Sean Kelly Gallery, New York City. The exhibit featured 11 paintings depicting contemporary black artists.
Wiley opened a studio in Beijing, China in 2006 to utilize several helpers to do brushstrokes for his paintings. Initially, outsourcing work to China had been done to cut costs but by 2012, Wiley told New York magazine that low costs was no longer the reason.
Judith Beheading HolofernesEdit
In 2012, Wiley who is known for painting men, exhibited work in Beijing including multiple paintings of women. New York Magazine described his variation of the painting of Judith Beheading Holofernes as standing out among the rest, describing the painting as depicting: "a tall, elegant black woman in a long blue dress. In one hand, she holds a knife. In the other, a cleanly severed brunette female head". Describing the painting Wiley said: "It's sort of a play on the 'kill whitey' thing". Wiley exhibited a second similar painting also in 2012. It also features a black woman holding a knife in one hand and a white female severed head in the other hand. The paintings are based on the story of Judith beheading Holofernes, a story of a female beheading a male general. Wiley interpreted the female character of Judith as a modern-day black woman. It is unclear why he interpreted Holofernes as white and changed the beheaded General Holofernes from male to female.
Barack Obama presidential portraitEdit
|Obamas' Portrait Unveiling, National Portrait Gallery, February 12, 2018, C-SPAN|
In October 2017, it was announced that Wiley had been chosen by Barack Obama to paint an official portrait of the former president to appear in Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery "America's Presidents" exhibition. The painting was unveiled on February 12, 2018. It depicts Obama sitting in a chair seemingly floating among foilage. The foliage is described by the author as "chrysanthemums (the official flower of Chicago), jasmine (symbolic of Hawaii where the president spent most of his childhood) and African blue lilies (alluding to the president's late Kenyan father)." Reacting to the unveiling of his portrait Obama said: "How about that? That's pretty sharp," The Washington Post described the painting as "not what you'd expect and that's why it's great". The painting received mixed reactions on social media.
Recognition and honorsEdit
In October 2011, Wiley received the Artist of the Year Award from the New York City Art Teachers Association/United Federation of Teachers. He also received Canteen Magazine's Artist of the Year Award. Two of Wiley's paintings were featured on the top of 500 New York City taxi cabs in early 2011 as a collaboration with the Art Production Fund.
Wiley is featured in a commercial on the USA as a 2010 Character Honoree. Puma AG commissioned Wiley to paint four portraits of prominent African soccer players. Patterns from his paintings were incorporated into Puma athletic gear. The complete series, Legends of Unity: World Cup 2010, was exhibited in early 2010 at Deitch Projects in New York City.
His work was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Recognize exhibit in 2008. Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, a retrospective at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, VA), in the summer of 2016 (June 11–September 5) assembled nearly 60 of his paintings and sculptures.
Selected solo exhibitionsEdit
- 2006: Kehinde Wiley: Columbus at the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH
- 2006: Willem van Heythuysen at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
- 2008: Three Wise Men Greeting Entry Into Lagos at (PAFA) Pennsylvania Academy Of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
- 2009: The World Stage: Brazil at Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, CA
- 2009: The World Stage: Africa at ArtSpace, San Antonio, TX
- 2009: Black Light at Deitch Projects, New York City
- 2010: Legends of Unity | World Cup 2010 | PUMA, several locations worldwide
- 2010: The World Stage: India, Sri Lanka at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL
- 2011: Kehinde Wiley: Selected Works at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art, Savannah, GA
- 2012: An Economy of Grace at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York City
- 2012: The World Stage: France at Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris
- 2012: Kehinde Wiley/ The World Stage: Israel at The Jewish Museum, New York City
- 2011–13: The World Stage: Israel at Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA; traveled to Jewish Museum (New York) (2012); the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA (2013); Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID (2013)
- 2013: Kehinde Wiley: Memling at Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
- 2013: The World Stage: Jamaica at Stephen Freidman Gallery, London, UK
- 2015–17: Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at the Brooklyn Museum (2015), Brooklyn, NY; traveled to Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX (2016); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (2016); Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA (2016); Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ (2016); Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH (2017), Oklahoma City Museum of Art (2017)
- 2017: Trickster, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York City
- 2017-18: In Search of the Miraculous at Stephen Freidman Gallery, London, UK
- Toledo Museum of Art
- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia
- San Antonio Museum of Art
- Minneapolis Institute of Art
- Brooklyn Museum
- Columbus Museum of Art
- Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in Detroit, Michigan
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri
- Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, Illinois
- Studio Museum in Harlem in New York City
- Jewish Museum in New York City
- High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia
- Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California
- Hammer Museum, in Los Angeles, California
- Milwaukee Art Museum
- Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina
- North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina
- Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, North Carolina
- Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut
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