KEHINDE WILEY (b. 1977)
Los Angeles native, Kehinde Wiley is a contemporary African-American painter known for his distinctive portraits. His subjects are often young black men and women, rendered in a Photo Realist style against densely pattered backgrounds. Working exclusively in portraiture, Wiley fuses traditional formats and motifs with modern modes of representation, melding references from many sources, including works from old masters like Peter Paul, Rubens and Jacques-Louis David, as well as Islamic architecture, and hip hop culture. “I believe it’s possible to hold twin desires in your head, such as the desire to create painting and destroy painting at once,” the artist explained. “The desire to look at a black American culture as underserved, in need of representation, a desire to mine that said culture and to lay its parts bare, and look at it almost clinically.”
In his related, ongoing “World Stage” series, Wiley’s heroic figures are depicted in front of colorful background patterns that make specific reference to textiles and decorative patterns of various cultures, from 19th-century Judaica paper cutouts to Martha Stewart’s interior color swatches. Wiley’s penchant for jarring juxtapositions stems from his desire to complicate notions of group identity. “How do we go beyond the media stereotypes about national identity?” he has said. “I don't really think about myself as a young, gay, black American, nor do I interface with my Brazilian or Mexican or Jewish friends that way.”
Born on February 28, 1977 in Los Angeles, CA, he received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2001. The artist has gone on to have several successful exhibitions including “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic,” which opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2015.
On February 12, 2018, both Wiley and the artist Amy Sherald unveiled their official presidential portraits of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The artist currently lives and works between New York, NY and Beijing, China. Today, Wiley’s works are held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Denver Art Museum, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others.