This is the incredible work of New York-based artist, Kehinde Wiley. He’s the first black artist to ever be commissioned to paint a presidential portrait for the Smithsonian (the gallery has the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House – they’ve all got to have one done at some point).

Barack Obama has chosen to have his portrait done by Kehinde who specialises in painting black men and women in the style of classical paintings – often in front of fantastically detailed floral patterns, a la William Morris. They’re based on Renaissance and Baroque works – so many of his subjects are on horseback. And we’d all like to see Barack riding some noble steed across a field of flowers, amirite?

Portrait of Natasha Zamor, 2015 Oil on canvas 72 x 60 in

A post shared by Kehinde Wiley (@kehindewiley) on

‘I was trained to paint the body by copying the Old Master paintings, so in some weird way this is a return to how I earned my chops — spending a lot of time at museums and staring at white flesh,’ he says on his website. ‘If you look at my paintings, there’s something about lips, eyes, and mucous membranes.

Work in progress. Oil study on linen for a Nigeria series of portraits. 📸 @bradogbonna

A post shared by Kehinde Wiley (@kehindewiley) on


Is it only about that? No. It asks, “What are these guys doing?’ They’re assuming the poses of colonial masters, the former bosses of the Old World.

‘Whenever I do photo shoots for paintings, I pull out a stack of books, whether it be something from the High Renaissance or the late French Rococo or the 19th century, it’s all thrown together in one big jumble. ‘I take the figure out of its original environment and place it in something completely made up. Most of the backgrounds I end up using are sheer decorative devices.

‘Things that come from things like wallpaper or the architectural façade ornamentation of a building, and in a way it robs the painting of any sense of place or location, and it’s located strictly in an area of the decorative.’ His models tend to remain dressed in their everyday clothing and are asked to assume poses found in paintings and sculptures. And he

At work on a massive equestrian painting. #kehindewiley #brooklyn #process #equestrianportrait #contemporaryart

A post shared by Kehinde Wiley (@kehindewiley) on

But this isn’t Kehinde’s first famous commision.

He’s done the Notorious B.I.G, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T and Michael Jackson. Michelle Obama, meanwhile, has chosen Amy Sherald – another black painter – for her own painting.

‘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 told The Los Angeles Times. ‘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.’

Miranda Larbi for Metro.co.uk

Facebook Comments

About author

Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 8278 posts

We are about democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

You might also like

Nevada caucuses: Who won and who lost?

Image copyrightAFPImage caption Sanders was campaigning in California and Texas as Nevadans were voting Along with a few far-flung US island territories, only four states are still using the caucus system, with its two-part voting rounds and 15% “viability…

10 Things to Know for Today

10 Things to Know for Today

Life & Style 0 Comments


Cameroonian singer Dencia has defended her controversial skin lightening product during its launch in Nigeria. The product was being promoted by model Blac Chyna at the event in Lagos. The


No Comments Yet!

You can be first to comment this post!

Leave a Reply