American Artist, Kehinde Wiley‘s work is a colorful blend of traditional and contemporary roots seen in his trademark oversized portraits where young men and women of color, posed in their street clothes are fixed into grandiose backgrounds that suit them as if they were royalty. Initially, his portraits were based on the photographs of young men in Harlem, now he has firmly situated himself as the painter known to travel to urban places in Israel, Africa, Brazil, and India to find his next subject.
These portrayals inspire people to throw out phrases like ‘crossing boundaries’, and ‘breaking down barriers’ when they refer to his art. In the last six years or so, Wiley has become a highly sought after painter – with a style I like to refer to as ‘art house rebel rousing’. At the forefront of this modern takeover is his artistic desire to make art that continues to carry on a discourse for people of color, “I think it’s important for African-American kids to see pictures of people who look like them on museum walls”, says Kehinde.
“I think one of the things that must happen in the work is for it to become class-conscious. You’ll never be able to exist within this marketplace without recognizing that paintings are perhaps the most expensive objects in the art world. It’s not going to change anyone’s life. But what it does function as is a catalyst for a different way of thinking. The very act of walking into the Los Angeles County Museum and seeing Kerry James Marshall as a kid gave me a sense of, Damn, maybe I can do this. And, so, symbols matter. One of my interests is in having the work in as many public collections as possible. When I go to the Brooklyn Museum or the Metropolitan Museum and see my stuff, I’m aware that there are other young kids who don’t have access to anything like it.”
—quote pulled from Meghan O’Rourke’s interview with Kehinde Wiley in WSJ
Enjoy these great links to more information on Wiley:
- Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at The Toledo Museum of Art (On view Feb. 10-May 14, 2017) offers an overview of the artist’s prolific 14-year career. His signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on paintings by Old Masters, replacing European aristocrats in those paintings with contemporary black subjects and drawing attention to the absence of African-Americans from historical and cultural narratives
- Not convinced that you need to see the exhibit? Wow yourself with the necessity to see Kehinde Wiley’s work in person with this intimate portrait of Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace, now on demand at PBS Art.
- There are several great art books that verse you in all things Wiley, but the book simply titled, Kehinde Wiley is by far my favorite. The book gets bonus points for having curator, Thelma Golden onboard as one its contributors.
- For a closer look at Kehinde Wiley works now in circulation and editorial imprints, try Artsy’s resource.