The National Portrait Gallery is unveiling portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama. But who is the artist that Obamas choose?
Kehinde Wiley was born in Los Angeles, California in 1977. 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.
“After several weeks in Lagos, he found his dad, who welcomed him. But — like any Telemachus or Luke Skywalker — Wiley, who was born in Los Angeles and lives in Brooklyn, was also looking for a sense of belonging, and his homecoming was not as seamless as he had dreamed,” the New Yorker reported in 2008. “Still, the place has a pull on him.
In December, he attended his half sister’s wedding, in the city of Uyo. He brought his mother, who had not seen his father in thirty years.”
Wiley was known for his highly naturalistic paintings of Black people in heroic poses. The Columbus Museum of Art, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2007, describes his work with the following: “Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture.”
Wiley earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art in 2001.
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.
In October 2017 it was announced that Wiley and Amy Sherald had been chosen to paint official portraits of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to be held in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
“Others might see maritime painting as a really wonderful way of looking at gentlemen’s leisure, or a certain aspect of Western ingenuity and know-how,” Mr. Wiley explained. Yet to him, the genre evokes an age of exploration that gave rise to sugar-cane fields in Jamaica, cotton fields in South Carolina and rice fields in Georgia, he said. His new works were an opportunity to demonstrate how “we all look at the same object in different ways.” -The New York Times. Link in bio
When Mama is your date to the White House First Lady Michelle Obama greets Kehinde Wiley and Freddie Mae Wiley during a White House Historical Association Arts Reception in the Blue Room of the White House, June 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) #mama #firstlady #flotus #kehindewiley #whitehouse