Artist of the Day #18: Kehinde Wiley

I feel like this is work by an artist I have seen a hundred times, but have never known who it was making the paintings. His style is so specific and polished, there couldn’t possibly be someone else out there doing the same thing, even if they tried. I finally took the time to learn the name Kehinde Wiley, after I saw some of his pieces at the Brooklyn museum.

Probably the first thing I notice about his work is how impressively real the portraits look. Even if he were just someone doing portraits in Central Park, heads would be turned. But there is much more to his work than the skill. The next thing I notice is the very ambient backgrounds and environments that many of his subjects are found in. I get the sense that he is trying to convey some sort of spiritual significance. Kehinde seems to exclusively be painting African-American  males, and almost each painting I could find had some sort of reference to Islamic or French patterns and architecture. I am not quite sure what he is trying to say with those references, but I can say for almost certain that his work is predominantly about celebrating the strength and pride of African-Americans. Each subject is almost always standing in a very heroic and masculine pose, and they are always just slightly above scale in size to accentuate the feeling of power.

Wiley has in the past been compared to such traditional painters as Gainsborough and Ingres. The artist himself takes claim to the fact that he has borrowed poses from many classical paintings in an effort to “interrogate the notion of the master painter.” He is certainly determined and hard working. Since starting this “artist of the day” project, I have not been able to so easily find so much work completed by an artist. I suggest trying to see his stuff in person. These jpegs just don’t do the scale enough justice.

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